Friday, May 25, 2012

Forgotten Books: Flash Casey by George Harmon Coxe

Yikes! Got busy this week and Friday crept up on me. So this one's a recycyled review. Something new next week, I promise!

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. W.T. Ballard's Bill Lennox debuted in 1934 (I think) and appeared in his last novel in 1960. The champ, Carroll John Daly's Race Williams, was in business 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)

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James Reasoner said...

I like the Kent Murdock books, but I like Flash Casey even more.

Oscar Case said...

I've read some of the Coxe novels and enjoyed them. At the time, I was reading for entertainment only and I was superbly entertained.

Rittster said...

You can watch HERE'S FLASH CASEY
(1937), the whole movie, for free on YouTube:

Hooray for the internet!

Rittster said...

I haven't watched it yet so I can't comment on it.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks for the tip, Rittster!