Friday, January 29, 2010

Forgotten Books: Flash Casey - Detective by George Harmon Coxe

Flash Casey wasn't really a detective, of course. He was a newspaper photographer who acted like a detective.  But I suppose Avon Books can be excused, because one of the stories in this collection is actually titled "Casey - Detective".

George Harmon Coxe was one of "Cap" Shaw's second tier of stalwarts during the glory days of Black Mask. Shaw made no bones about the fact he wanted his writers to emulate Hammett's style, and Coxe does a creditable job. You can enlarge the title spread (below) from "Women are Trouble" and see what I mean.

Three of the tales in this collection, first published in 1946 as an Avon digest, were from the Shaw years. The fourth also appeared in Black Mask, but not until 1941, five years after Shaw's departure. Coxe sold Flash Casey stories to the magazine until 1943, among them two serialized novels later published in book form as Silent Are the Dead (1942) and Murder For Two (1943).

Coxe devoted most of his time (21 novels) to another photographer hero named Kent Murdock. Since Casey made his debut in 1934, and the first Murdock book was published in 1935, I have to wonder which character Coxe created first. Was Murdock a cleaned-up, married and respectable version of Casey, or was Casey a rough-and-tumble version of Murdock? Any Coxe scholars out there?

Meanwhile, Casey carried on a life of his own in the radio series Casey, Crime Photographer, got his own Marvel comic book, and appeared in two movies. There was also a TV series on CBS in 1951-52. Richard Carlyle began in the leading role, which passed to Darren McGavin and then two others before all 40 live episodes had aired.

Coxe returned to the character in the 60s, writing three more novels, the last published in 1964. This span of 31 years means Flash Casey may have had the second longest literary life of any of Shaw's Black Mask characters, just ahead of W.T. Ballard's Bill Lennox, who debuted in 1934 and appeared in his last novel in 1960. The champ is Carroll John Daly's Race Williams, whose career stretched from 1923 to 1955.

"Women Are Trouble" is the first (and longest) story in this collection. My copy of the April 1935 Black Mask featuring that story is the rattiest mag I own that still has the cover somewhat attached. (Be interesting to know how it got this scuffed up and remained intact.) The story was also the basis of the first Flash Casey film (still another movie I've never seen), a 1936 MGM production starring Stuart Erwin.

(click to enlarge)

Since this piece got me into a Flash Casey mood, I'm giving Sam Spade the day off tomorrow. Instead of our regular weekly radio broadcast of The Adventures of Sam Spade, we'll feature a special presentation of Casey, Crime Photographer. And on Sunday, just for kicks, we'll present a complete Flash Casey comic book story.

NOTE: All items pictured and discussed in this post are absolutely genuine and in my possession. No foolin'.
Visit Patti Abbott's pattinase for more of today's Forgotten Books.


pattinase (abbott) said...

This is just a wonderful summary of Flash. Thanks, Dave.

Unknown said...

I've been listening to a few episodes of Casey, Crime Photographer from the radio days. It's kind of bland, not much like the books.

Richard Robinson said...

These look fast and fun, just the thing for a chilly morning and a hot cup of joe. Too bad I don't have one handy!

Thanks for another great post, Evan!

Laurie Powers said...

Great post, Dave.

George said...

I remember reading those Flash Casey novels long, long ago. George Harmon Coxe was an underrated writer.

James Reasoner said...

I liked the Murdock books I've read, but I always liked Flash Casey just a little more. I need to read more of Coxe's work.

Brian Drake said...

I've only been able to read two of the Casey short stories, and both were good. I've never noticed that Coxe patterned his writing off of Hammett, though. He seemed to have his own take on the Black Mask style. Then again, maybe the stories I read were post-Mask and he'd gone his own way by then.

The Casey radio shows are indeed nothing like the books, but the cast made them enjoyable, and the relationship between Casey and the police detective, Logan, is done well and matches the relationship in the books.

I think I like Casey because he reminds me of my newspaper days.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks for looking in, gang. Coxe was no Hammett, to be sure, but throughout the earliest stories I find dry description and clipped dialogue that make me think, Yep, there's the influence of Cap Shaw.

eda said...