(Editor's Note: We are greatly indebted to Mr. Monte Herridge for permission to reprint this piece. It originally appeared in the 2013 PulpFest organ PEAPSTER.)
The Life and Times of Daffy Dill
by Monte Herridge
Bill Latham, owner of the Hideaway Club, is a minor supporting character in the series from the beginning. The Club is on Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets. Another story states that the Club is between 42nd and 43rd Streets.
The editor Daffy works for he and others at the newspaper call “The Old Man” in an irreverent sort of way. Here is a typical view of him: “The Old Man was sitting at his desk with his green eyeshade down over his face and his bald head glistening like a snake’s spine. He looked like a little goblin . . .” (The Balinese Dagger) A competing reporter on the same paper is named Sam “Sammy” Lyons, but he disappears partway through the series. His name is changed to Harry Lyons in the second story, “A Nose for News.” Daffy occasionally works with newspaper photographers such as Jimmy Harris (The Balinese Dagger). Another photographer he works with is Smith “Smootsy” Dobbins (The Dead Man Had a Dummy).
There are too many stories in this series for space to give a rundown on each, but a selected number will be described.
“The Fifty Grand Brain” is the first story in the series and the supporting cast is already present. Daffy Dill comes across a drunken moll at the Hideaway Club and gets her to confide in him. She reveals the murder in her apartment of her boyfriend, a crooked undertaker involved with gangsters. He was supposedly involved in planning the theft of a brain from a deceased scientist which they were going to hold for ransom. So two cases intersect for Daffy Dill, as he investigates both.
“A Nose for News”, the second story in the series, finds Daffy in a number of stressful situations. First, through no fault of his own, he is fired from the newspaper for a typo where the word “cook” was published as “crook”. Next, he deals with some criminals at a nightclub to help a rich man’s daughter get out of trouble. Succeeding that, the woman is then kidnapped and Daffy has to rescue her and write it up in order to get his newspaper job back. He is put in jail for a short time as an accessory in the kidnapping. It all works out in the end, though Daffy has a little help from the police.
In “The Ghost Wore Boots” Daffy Dill and Hanley are summoned to a rich man’s residence on the edges of Manhattan Island. Supposedly a ghost has been seen by several people at the mansion, and they want answers. Then the body was found to have been taken from his casket. This is a rare story in the series; Daffy actually covers up for the murder because the victim was a low-life in every respect.
In “The Mute One ,” Daffy comes across a jewel theft on board a ship. He quickly figures out the members of the gang and their methods of getting the valuable jewel ashore and in their hands. Double-crossing by the gang members makes Daffy’s work more difficult and dangerous. He winds up with two bullets in him as result of recovering the stolen jewel. Not surprisingly, there are snakes involved in the story. A fair number of Sale’s stories in the pulps involved snakes.
“Cocked Dice” sees Daffy Dill getting back into action after recovering from a bullet wound in a previous adventure. He mentions that he spent a month in the hospital. In this latest story Daffy comes up against a strangler that he identifies with a lot of luck, and has to get the proof on him and catch him. He is almost killed in the attempt to capture the murderer.
In “The Bumper-Offer” Daffy receives a tip that his fellow newspaperman Harry Lyons (both of whom dislike each other intensely) is under threat of execution by an underworld hitman. So Daffy goes out of his way to try to save Lyon’s life, for some strange reason even risking his own life in the process.
In “Man Bites Dog” Daffy Dill investigates a supposed suicide that he thinks is really murder. In addition, six hundred thousand dollars is missing from the dead man’s stock brokerage company. Added to this, he has a case where the partner of the dead man supposedly offered to pay a well-known criminal to murder him so that the company would benefit by his insurance money. An offer he later withdrew when he found out his partner was dead.
“Green Mamba” refers to a poisonous snake. Another appearance of one of Sale’s favorite topics, snakes. This time a green mamba snake is missing from a scientist’s laboratory, which happens to be right next door to a millionaire’s home where the millionaire is mysteriously poisoned by snake venom. A vial of snake venom is also missing. Daffy Dill is called to the scientist’s place to check a news report, and makes a connection with happenings next door. A mystery to solve, in this story.
“I Cover Crime” finds Daffy first being summoned to a murder on a ferryboat, then summoned to a rich family’s place on Fifth Avenue. There he is asked to help find a stolen jewel, in return for a reward. He ties the two cases together, the murder victim being the rich family’s butler. The rich family’s son is also missing, making for a fairly complex case for Daffy Dill.
In “Twenty-Three Million” Daffy Dill is involved against his will in the investigation into the escape from prison of gangleader Bomber Malone and the activities of his gang. A somewhat violent story as Daffy has to really shoot straight a number of times in order to stay alive.
“The Balinese Dagger” is a short story that ends all too quickly. Daffy Dill is filling in for the waterfront reporter who is ill, and attends the publicity for the arrival of the S.S. Aranthic ship with detective Kirk Rainsford escorting a valuable ruby from India. When Rainsford is murdered, the killer is sought by Daffy. However, the killers find Daffy first and matters end up in a shootout. For once, Lieutenant Hanley is on the scene as a result of his own efforts. Plus, he was following Daffy.
In “Double Trouble” Daffy is asked to investigate two deaths, and finds that the supposedly separate incidents are connected. One, of a millionaire, was a natural death that turns out to be murder. Daffy is promised a fee of a thousand dollars to investigate the millionaire’s death. A third murder occurs before Daffy can pin down the killer. At stake are millions of dollars in inheritance that the millionaire’s estate left to his relatives. Usually Daffy or Hanley kill or wound the criminal in each story, but this is the first time that Dinah Mason herself shoots the criminal.
“The Guy From Superstition” involves the murder of an out of town character named Black Mesa Dean, and connects up to shady dealings of a rich man and his lawyer. After another murder, Dill searches the newspaper morgue for old news clippings and puts his finger on the probable clue and motive. Unfortunately for him, he has to defend himself from an angry killer with a knife.
“Flash!” is probably one of the best stories in the series. It is told entirely by using telegrams, telephone conversations, letters, radio news flashes, and excerpts from newspaper articles. Daffy Dill joins up with cameraman and insurance investigator Candid Jones in a chase after kidnappers of a two year old girl. She is the daughter of a rich ex-gangster, and the kidnappers are former members of his gang. There is no mystery in this story, just an account of the tracking and apprehension of the various members of the gang. Lieutenant Bill Hanley is involved in the story in various forms.
“Quoth the Raven: "Nevermore!" ” is about the murder of an actor who recites Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem on stage with the aid of a trained raven who says the word “Nevermore” and flies around. With a little luck, Daffy succeeds in exposing the killer in a highly melodramatic fashion with the aid of the raven.
“Give, Ghost, Give!” sees Daffy Dill attempting to aid Thardo Cardena, a respected professional magician. Daffy and Dinah are backstage at one of the magician’s performances, and witness the discovery of the murder of one of Cardena’s assistants on stage. There were no witnesses and no motive for the killing. A motive comes to light later, when criminals target Cardena’s access to fifty thousand dollars that is to be awarded to the first one relating a message from a deceased friend of Cardena’s.
“The Key” is a minor short story in the series, involving a murder that Daffy Dill and Lieutenant Hanley accidentally stumble upon at an actors’ hotel. It takes Daffy almost no time to discover the murderer’s identity.
In “Ghost of a Chance” there are a couple of mysteries that Daffy has to solve, and he does so easily, helping Lieutenant arrest the culprits and participating in a shootout with the criminals. The safe in a business office has been robbed of miscellaneous papers and the watchman killed. Also the former CEO of the company is kidnapped and doped up. Daffy clears up the mysteries and proves their connection to each other.
“Die, Hamlet!” involves Daffy Dill in a murder that had not even occurred yet. Sir Arnold Spence, a British Shakespearean actor who specialized in the role of Hamlet, invites Daffy as well as Dinah Mason to a dinner party at his penthouse. He requests that Daffy investigate his murder if it takes place at the dinner. Daffy finds that Poppa Hanley has also been called in to investigate.
In “Come Out of That Grave” Daffy and Lieutenant Hanley come up against Nick Jerome, a local racketeer who is into insurance fraud as a new way to get some money. When murder becomes a part of his racket, Daffy and Hanley are after him. Hanley comes to Daffy’s rescue at the end.
In “The Dead Man Had a Dummy” Daffy Dill investigates the death of a former racketeer kingpin who had been released from jail just a short time previously. The dummy was the racketeer’s favorite companion, and even took it to jail with him. He learned ventriloquism in order to use the dummy. The dummy disappears from the man’s possession after he died, and Daffy Dill sees it as something he can use to find the killer.
In “Jimjam” Daffy is involved in a shipboard murder. One of the officers of the ship S.S. Pymlion was murdered while Daffy and other newsmen were aboard the ship gathering news from the ship’s passengers. This story has a dying message written down by the murder victim. Just one word: “Jimjam”. The ship’s officers are being murdered one after another, and Daffy has to try to figure out the identity of the killer by doing some real detective work. Lieutenant Hanley is also on the case. This is one of the better stories in the series.
“Death of a Glamor Girl” is the second team-up of Daffy Dill with Investigator and cameraman Candid Jones. Like the earlier story, this one is told in letters, telegrams, and news broadcasts. The duo head for Hollywood to investigate the murder of a glamorous movie actress, and find a cold welcome from everyone in Hollywood. Most of the people in the studios and police don’t like the idea of outsiders investigating a case in their area.
“Gabriel's Wings” sees Daffy Dill investigating murder on the Gettysburg battlefield. This story has a larger part than usual for Daffy’s editor on the newspaper, the Old Man (never was given a real name). The two are on their way by road past the battlefield when they have a tire blowout. Stopping to change the tire, they heard eerie noises and a woman’s scream. They found out later it was a murder they heard. Daffy goes back to the area to investigate, this time taking Dinah Mason with him to help.
In “The Nervous Corpse” Daffy investigates the murder of a fellow newspaper reporter on the Chronicle. He finds other murders that follow that one that are connected, and quickly finds the link between them. Who would kill Zerina, the Headless Woman? Daffy also acquires a new gun in this story.
“Bombs Bursting In Air” is a short story late in the series, and Daffy comes up against American Nazis and their bomb threats. He quickly divines what is occurring and why, and solves the case quickly, although at the risk of his and Lieutenant Hanley’s lives.
In “Detour—to Death” Daffy receives an out of town telephone call from a Dinah Mason in distress, and has to go to her aid. He enlists Lieutenant Hanley to go with him, even though Hanley is out of his jurisdiction. They meet up with some New York gangsters and a firefight ensues. The story ends with Daffy receiving a draft notice from the government, but this is not referred to in the next story.
This is an excellent series, with a wide variety of stories of varying lengths. There is humor in the stories, but it is well integrated into them. With as many stories as were published, it must have been a popular series with the readers. It is deserving of reprinting, though it might take multiple volumes to do so. Sale had five other series running in Detective Fiction Weekly at one time or another: Candid Jones, Captain McGrail, Casey Mason, John the Cobra, and Owl-Eye Venner.
Daffy Dill by Richard B. Sale:
In Detective Fiction Weekly:
The Fifty Grand Brain - November 3, 1934
A Nose for News - December 1, 1934
The Ghost Wore Boots - February 2, 1935
The Mute One - March 9, 1935
A Slug for Cleopatra - March 30, 1935
Cocked Dice - May 11, 1935
The Bumper-Offer - June 22, 1935
The Dancing Corpse - September 7, 1935
Man Bites Dog - September 28, 1935
Green Mamba - October 19, 1935
I Cover Crime - November 16, 1935
Twenty-Three Million - January 25, 1936
The Strangler Without Hands - March 28, 1936
The Balinese Dagger - August 22, 1936
Double Trouble - October 31, 1936
The Guy From Superstition - December 19, 1936
Dancing Rats - February 27, 1937
The Murderous Mr. Coon - March 20, 1937
Flash! - May 29, 1937
Ghost in C-Minor - June 12, 1937
Hanley Has a Homicide - June 26, 1937
Quoth the Raven: "Nevermore!" - July 10, 1937
Give, Ghost, Give! - October 2, 1937
The Key - October 16, 1937
Ghost of a Chance - December 25, 1937
A Hearse for Hiawatha - January 29, 1938
Die, Hamlet! - March 5, 1938
Come Out of That Grave - August 13, 1938
The Sinister Leaf - September 17, 1938
The Dead Man Had a Dummy - November 5, 1938
Jimjam - December 17, 1938
A Nice Quiet Place - February 4, 1939
Three Wise Men of Babylon - April 1, 1939
Death of a Glamor Girl - April 8, 1939
The Nutcracker Murders - May 13, 1939
Chiller-Diller - June 24, 1939
No Nice Girl Kills - July 8, 1939
Nail Down the Lid - July 15, 1939
A Dirge for Pagliaccio - July 29, 1939
Gabriel's Wings - August 12, 1939
The Case of the Giant Rat - September 9, 1939
Goodbye, Gravescratcher - September 23, 1939
The Nervous Corpse - December 2, 1939
By Claw and Fang - December 16, 1939
The Loquacious Lizard - January 27, 1940
Death in Pink - March 2, 1940
Up From the Dead - April 27, 1940
Galileo's Collar - September 7, 1940
Come and Get It - September 14, 1940
Keep Your Head - November 2, 1940
Bombs Bursting In Air - November 23, 1940
Money to Burn - December 21, 1940
Burma Star - January 18, 1941
Godfrey's Ashes - February 15, 1941
Hermit Went to Heaven - March 8, 1941
Fifty Grand - April 12, 1941
Ghosts Don't Make No Noise - June 7, 1941
Death on High Iron - September 17, 1941
Detour - to Death - January, 1943
Death Flies High - June 1943
In Clues Detective Stories:
The Egg - March 1935
Richard Sale says:“Went to Washington and Lee University, and began my professional writing days there. Married Arline Walker while I was a sophomore. That was five years ago. I am now the proud father—and I mean proud—of an eight months old daughter, Lindsey, who delights my heart by making passes at my typewriter.
“I was a cub reporter on the Pelham, N. Y., Sun for a few years, and got most of my newspaper experience—if you can call it such—there. Thus was Daffy Dill born.
“Am a man of many hobbies and devote more time to them than I should. I am an ardent model railroad fan and am now third owner of a fine little railroad. Also like photography. Had done little of it until Lindsey made her arrival. Taking pictures of her made me camera conscious and I went into it further, including motion pictures. Thus was Candid Jones born.
“Have authored two novels: Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep, published in this country by Simon & Schuster and soon to be made into a motion picture by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Is a Ship Burning? to be published this spring in London by Cassell, Ltd. A third, Monday Island*, is in the works.
“Have traveled the country a bit from New York to Miami to Hollywood. Speaking of Hollywood: I now have a movie playing the theaters entitled Find the Witness, which was originally a Daffy Dill story called A Slug for Cleopatra.”
The following photograph and biographical sketch are from Blue Book, probably 1942:
© 2013 by Monte Herridge
Me again: Thanks Monte!
Gotta warn you - Daffy is habit forming, but his adventures are hard to come by. I know of only three that have been reprinted. I encourage you to seek out "A Nose for News" in The Hardboiled Dicks, "Double Trouble" in Hardboiled Dames and "Three Wise Men of Babylon" in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.
BUT - Once our salute to Daffy completes you'll have access to a total of five more stories, and have a pretty dang good idea why Daffy was one of DFW's most popular characters.
FRIDAY: "The Dancing Corpse" HERE
SATURDAY: Daffy Dill cover gallery HERE
SUNDAY: "A Dirge for Pagliaccio" HERE
MONDAY: "A Slug for Cleopatra" HERE
TUESDAY: Daffy Dill interior art HERE
WEDNESDAY: Find the Witness (the almost Daffy movie) HERE
THURSDAY: "Death on High Iron" HERE
and TOMORROW, another story: "The Murderous Mr. Coon"