Rediscovered: The Influence of Race

dalythemthatlivesbytheirgunsRace Williams, that is. . . .

I got Them That Lives by Their Guns around Thanksgiving last year, and promised I was going to give it a fair shake. Read each and every story.

And read them all I did — didn’t take long to get into the rhythm.

Lots of pleasant surprises. I never expected that Daly would haul out a Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother bit, but it turns out in “Under Cover” old Race has a brother named Balcone — I wonder if this guy will show up on occasion in the stories collected in later volumes, like Mycroft Holmes?

Or was it a one-time nod to the lore and legend of crime fiction? “I got thinking of Balcone and wondering if his Sherlock Holmes brain could dope a way out of this mess.”

Come on, you weren’t expecting that, either.

I’m hoping this series will pop Daly’s rep back up a few notches with the general reading public. As a mystery writer, his place is secure — side-by-side in the wood pulp pages of Black Mask with Hammett, both coming out of the gate with hard-boiled detective stories the same month. With Erle Stanley Gardner, Nebel, Whitfield, and crew right on their heels. If you know The Mask and the genre, you know Daly.

And then you have the fact that Daly has some fame as Mickey Spillane’s favorite writer — Spillane, the bestselling American writer of the 1950s, I believe, and book-per-book the bestselling crime writer of the 1950s, 60s and well into the 70s. Erle Stanley Gardner, with many dozen more novels than Spillane, probably has more total units sold overall, but you wouldn’t want to put most novels up against I, the Jury.

Mick even sent Daly a note once, saying, “Yours was the first and only style of writing that ever influenced me in any way.”

And most mystery fans know that Daly thought about suing Spillane for plagiarism. . . .

I’m not any kind of fan of Spillane’s writing — I read The Delta Factor in the late 60s, then I, the Jury more recently. Man, was Jury a turkey. I may find an odd moment someday to poke through other classic Mike Hammer texts, but I’m not blocking out dates for it. If anything, I figure going back to Daly is more instructive.

But even if I didn’t like Mick’s fiction, I always liked Mick. He’d show up on Johnny Carson or Tom Snyder, late night, and I remember Johnny Carson asking him, “So, Mick, the critics don’t seem to like your books. What do you think about that?”

Mickey: “I don’t care what they think about my books as long as they don’t take away my money.”

If only half the bestselling blowhards pretending to be “great writers” were half as honest!

But for Daly to actually think about suing — I had the sense that it would have to be more than just the idea of a tough dick talking tough and shooting straight and slugging his hard way through a caper.

And reading along in Them That Lives by Their Guns I hit a moment where the lightbulb exploded. In “Devil Cat,” Black Mask, November 1924. Enough of a nudge, it occurred to me, to maybe get a guy to ring up his lawyer. . . .

On one of the talk shows I caught circa the late 60s Spillane was talking about the ending of one of his novels — a Mike Hammer, I’m pretty sure — and how the whole shebang was wrapped up tight in the last line. In only four words.

“She was a he.”

Whoa. That’s some deep Mike Hammer 50s/60s shock ending stuff, for sure.

But back in 1924, Daly wrote, “And you’ve guessed it. She was a he. Oh, I’m free to admit I didn’t tumble at first. She made a crack boy, and no mistake.”

No question Daly influenced Spillane, right?

Mick spun it his way and made more out of it, and raked in the big bucks.

After Carroll John Daly pioneered the trail through the pulp jungle.

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