Friday, May 14, 2010

Forgotten Books: Mr. Strang by Carroll John Daly

Oops.  When I pulled Mr. Strang off the shelf last week, intending to read it for this review, I was certain sure it was one of the many Carroll John Daly novels offered for download at the Vintage Library site.  And I kept on being sure until I started writing this, and popped over to Vintage Library to get the link. Oops.

This book, I discovered, is one of the very few Daly novels missing from their list. And since it’s never been reprinted, it’s a tough book to come by. The best news I can offer is that WorldCat shows it to be in the collections of five U.S. libraries who might be persuaded to release it on InterLibrary Loan.

Daly has been belittled in mystery circles - grudgingly acknowledged as the inventor of the hardboiled detective, then swept under the rug to make way for shrines to Hammett and Chandler. Daly was never in the same league with those two, it’s true, but he didn’t try to be. Though his stories appeared in detective pulps and his characters sometimes solved crimes, he wasn’t really writing mystery stories (at least not in the 30s).  In plot, style, action and dialogue his work is much closer to that much admired in the hero pulps.

Mr. Strang clearly illustrates that point because he makes no pretense at being a detective.  He’s a vigilante, pure and simple, in the tradition of The Shadow and The Spider.

This novel first appeared in three 1935 issues of Detective Fiction Weekly - as three long novelettes that form a relatively seamless story. Daly accomplished this by squaring Strang off against (and killing) one of the kingpin’s chief gunmen in each of the first two parts, saving the big cheese for the finale.

Strang’s mission here is to destroy the Parole racket. The city’s crime kingpin, you see, uses political influence to have criminals released to his bidding. Whether a job calls for a safecracker, a forger or a ruthless killer, he always has the perfect man on ice in the state pen. Strang’s parents, we learn, were victims of this racket, and he carries a bullet imbedded at the base of his skull as a reminder of the occasion. He refuses to have it removed until his mission is completed.

Daly’s stories at this stage of career were stuffed with melodrama. Every room, it seems, has a convenient alcove hidden by heavy curtains, just right for heroes and villains to hide behind. In 9 out of 10 shootouts, the hero shoots the villain smack in the center of the forehead, the exception being when the villain happens to be talking at the time--and takes the slug through his open mouth.

While the prose is often hokey, it’s always entertaining--far more lively than the relatively flat style employed for adventures of the Shadow, the Avenger, G-8, Secret Agent X and the Phantom Detective.  Daly’s writing has more personality, livelier than the work by Frederick C. Davis and Emile Tepperman in Operator 5 at least as compelling as that of Norvell Page on The Spider. (It’s hard to even compare him to Lester Dent, because I see Dent as a really fine writer who was slumming.)

Mr. Strang returned to Detective Fiction Weekly in 1937 in a four-part serial called The Legion of the Living Dead. The title refers to Strang’s cadre of assistants, men and women with incurable illnesses whose greatest hope is to die fighting in a good cause before succumbing to disease. This novel was reportedly published in Canada in 1947 by Popular Publications, leading me to believe it may have been a paperback. I have the serial, but have never seen the book. If anyone has more info on it, or maybe a scan of the cover, I’d sure like to see it. 

I’m sorry I can’t send you over to Vintage Press for a PDF copy of this book - but if Mr. Strang sounds like your cup of tea, I can recommend the two Satan Hall novels offered there: The Mystery of the Smoking Gun and Ready to Burn. Though Frank “Satan” Hall is officially a police detective, he’s firmly in the Pulp Hero mold - just like Mr. Strang.

The ringmaster for this week's collection of Forgotten Books is George Kelley. Visit him for links.


Deka Black said...

His eyes are frightening, very.

Evan Lewis said...

So long as you're not out on parole and committing crimes, Deka, you don't have to worry.

David Cranmer said...

I dig that b&w artwork. Sharp.

George said...

Once again you've produced a mind-bogging FORGOTTEN BOOK review! I've never seen or heard of this book before. You're amazing, Evan!

Cap'n Bob said...

Looks like Mr Spock.

Brian Drake said...

I don't care what anybody says, I LIKE Carroll John Daly. Daly knew how to entertain and often he was really, really good. I'm currently reading a Williams short story called "The Egyptian Lure" and most of it is great. Every now and then Daly goes off on a tangent that makes you go, "Hmmmmmmm," but when he gets back on track it's a thrill ride.