“I lost my left arm. I’m right-handed. There is some good in everything, if you look at it correctly.”
— Dan Fortune
What is it about handicapped heroes? (Or physically-challenged or differently-abled or whatever the phrase is this week, I guess).
You could argue this curious sub-genre started with Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados in the pages of News of the World, but it truly bloomed in the pages of the gloriously incorrect weird menace pulps of the thirties, such as Strange Detective Mysteries, Detective Mystery Magazine and especially Dime Mystery. These stories may have had a fervent if short-lived lifespan, but they left a long, if not always glorious, tradition behind.
You can read all about it in the highly-recommended (if you can find it) The Defective Detective in the Pulps, a 1983 anthology edited by Ray Browne and Gary Hoppenstand, and its 1985 sequel, More Tales of the Defective Detective in the Pulps.
Although the intentional shock value of the “defective” eye has been virtually vanquished (“Look, ma! Freaks!”), physically-challenged eyes continue to this day, including such noteworthy specimens as Michael Collins’ outstanding Dan Fortune series, Dick Francis’ Sid Halley and Jonathan Lethem’s Lionel Essrog, and almost all of them replace cheap gimmicks with compassion and understanding, and shock with empathy.
Though we’re not out of the woods yet. There was something about TV’s Monk‘s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) being played for increasingly cheap laughs that just really bothered me.
But I digress…
Here are some of the best “defective” detectives, for better or worse, from the pulp era and beyond…
- Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah (blind)
He could read by feeling the shape and thickness of ink on a page? What bullshit!
FROM THE PULP ERA…
- Inspector Allhoff by D.L. Champion (missing a leg)
- Ben Bryn by Russell Gray (polio victim)
- Robert “Le Manchot” Dumont by Pierre Saurel (missing left hand)
- Joe Gee by Wyatt Blassingame (insomnia; couldn’t sleep while on a case)
- Dan Holden by Leon Bryne (deaf)
- Calvin Kane by Russell Gray (the “Crab Detective,” unable to walk due to his deformed body)
- Captain Duncan Maclain by Baynard Kendrick (blind)
- Lin Melchan by Warren Lucas (over-heightened sense of hearing)
- Matt Mercer by Day Keene (missing his left arm, courtesy of WWII)
- Nat Perry by Edith and Ejler Jacobson (hemophiliac)
- Peter Quest by John Kobler (glaucoma, resulting in periodic blindness)
- Seekay by Paul Ernst (no face!)
- Bruno Steele by Curtiss T. Gardner (blind)
- Nicholas Street by Nat Schachner (amnesia)
… AND BEYOND
- Joe Binney by Jack Livingston (hearing impaired)
- Robert Bogerud by Bård Breien (Down Syndrome)
- Eric Bolan by Jonathan Betuel (almost mute)
- The Creep by John Arcudi (acromegaly)
- C.B. Green by Bill Capron (colourblind)
- Lionel Essrog by Jonathan Lethem (Tourette’s Syndrome)
- Ginny Fistoulari by Reed Stephens (missing hand)
- Dan Fortune by Michael Collins (missing an arm)
- C.B. Green by Bill Capron (colourblind)
- Sid Halley by Dick Francis (missing a hand)
- D Hunter by Nelson George (HIV positive)
- John Kenneth Galbraith Jantarro by Simon Ritchie (missing an arm)
- “Slot Machine” Kelly by Dennis Lynds (missing an arm)
- Mike Longstreet (blind)
- Mongo by George C. Chesbro (dwarf)
- Adrian Monk by Andrew Breckman & David Hoberman (OCD)
- Manville Moon by Richard Deming (missing a leg)
- Zen Moses by Elizabeth Cosin (missing a lung, due to cancer)
- Mark Saber (missing an arm)
- Harold Shillman by Eric Bercovici (failed suicide)
- Leonard Shelby by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan (anterograde amnesia)
- Steve Silk by James Brendan O’Sullivan (missing a lung)
- Sarge Steel by Dick Giardino (missing left hand)
- Samuel Clemens Tucker by Jerry Allen (missing a foot and… a testicle)
- Henry Morton Wardlaw by James Atlee Phillips (blind)
- Caleb Zelic by Emma Viskic (hearing impaired)
AND, IN PASSING
- Fred Carver by John Lutz
This Florida P.I. has to walk with a cane, thanks to the hold-up man’s bullet that ended his police career and left him with a permanently-stiff left leg.
- Dan Green by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty
During the course of their comic book adventures, Ms. Tree‘s young op loses a hand.
- Disciple Manning by R. Scott Baker
I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse (although Disciple himself is pretty clear on how he feels about it), but this Newark P.I. can’t forget anything. Literally.
- Gil Hamilton by Larry Niven
If you want to cross genres, Niven’s sci-fi eye Gil Hamilton is also missing an arm, although he manages to find a use for the incorporeal arm occasionally.
- Joe Graham by Don Wilson
Wilson’s series eye Neil Carey is the protege of detective Joe Graham, who is missing an arm.
Of course, we can”t forget those eyes who are, ummm, Reality-Challenged…
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Mark Blumenthal, Duke Seabrook, Gerald So and Bill Kelly for their suggestions, insights and help with this page. And please don’t give me any crap about my “unwoke” language–I’m “differently abled” myself. So fuck off.
5 thoughts on “The Defective Detectives”
Another blind detective from the early 1900s is Max Carrados, the creation of Ernest Bramah, first published in 1914. The nominal detective is Mr Carlyle, but he always calls in Carradosor there would be no stories.
Apologies for missing first mention – my search facility obviously wasn’t working.
No, no. It was an oversight, which I’ve since corrected. Thank you!
Please bring back Reality Challanged Private ees
Here they are! https://thrillingdetective.com/351l