Friday, October 19, 2012

Forgotten Books: Flash Casey 519, Sam Spade 230 -or- "Silent Are the Dead" by George Harmon Coxe

Flash (short for Flashgun) Casey, tough-guy photographer for the Boston Express, was born in Black Mask in 1934, and went on to make more appearances in other media than any other graduate of the magazine, including the runner-up, Sam Spade.

Here's the scorecard.
Pulp magazine stories: Casey 21, plus two serialized novels. Spade appeared in one serialized novel.
Slick magazine stories: Casey 0. Spade 3.
Paperback collections: Casey 1. Spade 1.
Hardcover novels:  Casey 5 (plus one written under a pseudonym by Edward S. Aarons). Spade 1.
Movies: Casey 2. Spade 2.
Radio shows: Casey 444. Spade 221.
Television episodes: Casey 40. Spade 0.
Comic books: Casey 4. Spade 1.

In terms of volume, Casey smoked him. But these days, while Spade is an Icon and Hammett almost a god, Casey is a Forgotten Character, and George Harmon Coxe is rarely read. Tsk, tsk.

Still, posterity got it right. That one Spade novel is better than all the Casey stories and novels put together, both Spade films are by all accounts far superior to the Casey flicks, the Spade radio show was a lot more fun than Casey's, and even the single comic book (an adaptation of The Maltese Falcon) was better than the Casey series. The only place I'd give Flash the edge is in the story category, because the Spade tales from the slicks are pretty lame.

Silent Are the Dead (1942), the first Casey novel, was serialized in Black Mask between September and November 1941. Sad to say, Casey is not quite as tough as he was during his years with Joe Shaw (1934-1936). This, I suspect, was because Coxe had put Casey on the back burner, devoting most of his time to a kinder, gentler Boston news photographer named Kent Murdock. By the time Silent Are the Dead appeared in hardcover, Coxe already had nine Murdock novels under his belt.

Silent Are the Dead is still a pretty good read, but if you're new to Flash Casey, I'd suggest you read a couple of the pulp stories first. You'll find "Murder Mixup" in Shaw's Hard-Boiled Omnibus. "Murder Picture" was reprinted in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, and "Fall Guy" in The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. And the vintage paperback collection Flash Casey - Detective (reviewed HERE) is not impossible to come by.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase.


George said...

I pick up George Harmon Coxe books whenever I find them in thrift stores and Library sales. I've read about a dozen of them and enjoyed each one. I really love the cover on that DELL Mapback!

Rick Robinson said...

I've simply got to try to read more Casey!

Dan_Luft said...

I've got Murder With Pictures on a shelf full of mapbacks. Maybe it's time to give it a look.