Carroll John Daly is credited with creating the first hard-boiled detective story, 1923’s “Three Gun Terry,” featuring private investigator Terry Mack, and later that same year the first hard-boiled detective series when P.I. Race Williams returned in “Three Thousand to the Good” in the July 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask. “The Third Murderer” is a Williams' story from 1931. Other popular heroes are Horace McCoy’s Captain Jerry Frost of the Texas Air Rangers, Charles G. Booth’s McFee of the Blue Shield Detective Agency, and Frederick Nebel’s Homicide Captain Steve MacBride.
“The Villains” are an interesting lot because many of them are Robin Hood-types, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, which no doubt had an appeal to readers affected by the Great Depression. Like The Saint, Frederick C. Davis’ The Moon Man stole from people who deserved it. He wore a dome made out of one-way glass to hide his identity, similar to Spider-Man’s nemesis, Mysterio, because during the day he was police officer Stephan Thatcher. Gardner’s Lester Leith only stole from rich crooks, giving away most of the money to charity minus a 20% recovery fee.
Steve Fisher, who went on to write for many TV shows such as Starsky & Hutch, McMillan & Wife and Barnaby Jones, has a story from 1938 that will unfortunately always be timely. “You’ll Always Remember Me” is about a juvenile killer who cannot be tried as adult. It closes with a great final paragraph as the unrepentant 14-year-old narrator in reform school says to the reader, “You’ll always remember me, won’t you? Because I’ll be out when I am older and you might be the one I’ll be seeing.”
“The Dames” usually get short shrift in these stories, usually appearing as secretaries, damsels in distress or femme fatales, but Penzler was able to collect a good variety of characters, even though none of the stories are written by women. We meet a smart criminal lawyer Phyllis Martindel in Leslie T. White’s “Chosen To Die,” savvy jewel thief Countess d’Yls in C.S. Montanye’s “ A Shock for the Countess,” and intuitive reporter Katie Blayne, nicknamed “the Duchess” in Whitman Chambers’ “The Duchess Pulls a Fast One.”