Race Williams

Created by Carroll John Daly

“Sometimes… one hunk of lead is worth all the thought in the world”
— from “Not My Corpse”

“I have brains, I suppose.”
— from “The Snarl of the Beast”

ew York City’s RACE WILLIAMS is oftenconsidered to be the first “private eye,” at least as we understand the term.

Actually, close but no cigar.

Race made his first appearance in the June 1, 1923 issue of The Black Mask, in a short story called “Knights of the Open Palm.” But he was predated by a month by Daly’s own Three Gun Terry who showed up in the May issue — a month earlier.

Doesn’t matter much, though — they’re more or less the same trigger-happy guy, and it was Race who went on to appear in countless short stories and novels over the next thirty years, and sowed the seeds for the likes of Mike Hammer and a slew of other shoot-first, sort-em-out later hard-boiled yeggs through the decades. His first appearance in book form, meanwhile, The Snarl of the Beast (1927), is generally acknowledged as the first hard-boiled private eye novel.

Answering to no law but his own, quick to kill, brutal, violent, hard-talking, yet loyal to a fault, Race will never be a thinking man’s detective. In fact, this pin-up boy for the NRA is almost defiantly illiterate, as though that’s a further sign of his toughness. As Robert Sampson, pulp expert, once wrote in Volume 4 of his Yesterday’s Faces: A Study of Series Characters in the Early Pulp Magazines,

“Race Williams is often credited with being the first hard-boiled detective. That strains the definition of detective. Williams is a hired adventurer who may occasionally detect if he blunders into a clue the size of a bathtub and painted bright pink. He has little use for clues, even less for chains of reasoning.”

He’s certainly not in it for the money. In fact, sometimes it seems Race doesn’t really care about anything except killing. He nonchalantly quotes his fee as “$25 an hour, plus $3.75 per man killed” but is willing to haggle. As he puts it in the 1947 short story “Not My Corpse”: “If you think that’s too high, why, mail me what you think it’s worth.”

Still, he seems to be doing well enough to pay the salary of his “boy”, Jerry, who serves as his faithful assistant and manservant.

And, of course, Race also has his friends and foes on the police force. Sergeant O’Rourke is a veteran cop who could have chucked it all in years ago, and become an inspector, but he’s stayed on the street, close to his men. Race and O’Rourke get along just swell. Not so with Inspector Nelson, a by-the-book kinda guy with a strong dislike of all private dicks in general, and Race in particular. He can also count on Foster of The Journal, who treats Race pretty well.

But the main character to challenge Race was The Flame, the so-called “Girl With The Criminal Mind.” If, as has often been repeated, Nero Wolfe is the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, then it just may be, as Tony Sparafucile suggested in the 1978 preface to Murder From the East, that Mike Hammer is the bastard son of Race and The Flame.

If that’s the case, it would expain a lot. The dames, the guns, the obsessive behaviour, the New York setting, the shoot first, then shoot again mentality, etc., etc.

In 1930, then Black Mask editor “Cap” Shaw published the results of a poll on various writers’ popularity. His favorite, Dashiell Hammett, placed third, behind Erle Stanley Gardner. Number One with a Bullet (several, in fact) was Daly and his boy Williams. In fact, the appearance of Daly or Race’s name on the cover was generally considered enough to boost a pulp’s sales by anywhere from 5 to 20 percent. In 1934, Daly had an argument with the editors of Black Mask and he left to write for rival Dime Detective.


  • “I have brains, I suppose. We all have. But a sharp eye, a quick draw, and a steady trigger finger drove me into the game. Also you might add to that an aptitude for getting out of trouble almost as quickly as I get into it.
    — The Snarl of the Beast
  • “I’m what you might call a middleman – just a halfway house between the cops and the crooks. I do a little honest shooting once in a while–just a in the way of business, but I never bumped off a guy who didn’t need it. . . The papers are always either roasting me for shooting down some minor criminals or praising me for gunning out the big shots. But when you’re hunting the top guy, you have to kick aside—or shoot aside—the gunmen he hires. You can’t make a hamburger without grinding up a little meat.”
  • “One thing was certain. The dead body didn’t belong in my room . . .I simply dragged the corpse to the window, looked down at the darkness some seventeen stories below and then—oh, it may be brutal and all that, but way beat around a stiff? I just lifted him up and chucked him out.”
  • “I ain’t afraid of nothing… providing there’s enough jack in it.”
  • “I shot him five times. Five times in the stomach before he could even squeeze the trigger. Surprised? He was amazed.”
  • “My ethics are my own. I’m not saying they’re good and I’m not admitting they’re bad, and what’s more I’m not interested in the opinions of others on that subject. When the time comes for some quick-drawing gunman to jump me over the hurdles I’ll ride to the Pearly Gates on my own ticket. It won’t be a pass written on the back of another man’s thoughts. I stand on my own legs and I’ll shoot it out with any gun in the city–any time, any place.”
    — The Snarl of the Beast


  • “Race Williams, a gun-for-hire who makes Mike Hammer look like Alan Alda”
    —Andrew Vachss (March 1992, Hardboiled)
  • “… a good example of Race’s early career. It’s breezy, exuberant, and packed with action an sudden death. No, it ain’t great writing, but it’s great fun.”
    — Evan Lewis on “Alas Buttercup” (March 2012, Davy Crockett’s Almanack)



  • “Knights of the Open Palm” (June 1923, Black Mask)
  • “Three Thousand to the Good” (July 15, 1923, Black Mask)
  • “The Red Peril” (June 1924, Black Mask)
  • “Them That Lives By Their Guns” (August 1924, Black Mask)
  • “Devil Cat” (November 1924, Black Mask)
  • “The Face Behind the Mask” (February 1925, Black Mask)
  • “Conceited, Maybe” (April 1925, Black Mask)
  • “Say It With Lead” (June 1925, Black Mask)
  • “I’ll Tell the World” (August 1925, Black Mask)
  • “Alias Buttercup” (October 1925, Black Mask)
  • “Under Cover” (Part 1) (December 1925, Black Mask)
  • “Under Cover” (Part 2) (January 1926, Black Mask)
  • “South Sea Steel” (May 1926, Black Mask)
  • “The False Clara Burkhart” (July 1926, Black Mask)
  • “The Super Devil” (August 1926, Black Mask)
  • “Half-Breed” (November 1926, Black Mask)
  • “Blind Alleys” (April 1927, Black Mask)
  • “The Snarl of the Beast” (Part 1) (June 1927, Black Mask)
  • “The Snarl of the Beast” (Part 2) (July 1927, Black Mask)
  • “The Snarl of the Beast” (Part 3) (August 1927, Black Mask)
  • “The Snarl of the Beast” (Part 4) (September 1927, Black Mask)
  • “The Egyptian Lure” (March 1928, Black Mask)
  • “The Hidden Hand — Creeping Death” (June 1928, Black Mask)
  • “The Hidden Hand — Wanted For Murder” (July 1928, Black Mask)
  • “The Hidden Hand — Rough Stuff” (August 1928, Black Mask)
  • “The Hidden Hand — The Last Chance” (September 1928, Black Mask)
  • “The Last Shot” (October 1928, Black Mask)
  • “Tags of Death” (March 1929, Black Mask)
  • “A Pretty Bit of Shooting” (April 1929, Black Mask)
  • “Get Race Williams” (May 1929, Black Mask)
  • “Race Williams Never Bluffs” (June 1929, Black Mask)
  • “The Silver Eagle” (October 1929, Black Mask)
  • “The Death Trap” (November 1929, Black Mask)
  • “Tainted Power” (June 1930, Black Mask)
  • “Framed” (July 1930, Black Mask)
  • “The Final Shot” (August 1930, Black Mask)
  • “Shooting Out of Turn” (October 1930, Black Mask)
  • “Murder By Mail” (March 1931, Black Mask)
  • “The Flame and Race Williams” (Part 1) (June 1931, Black Mask)
  • “The Flame and Race Williams” (Part 2) (July 1931, Black Mask)
  • “The Flame and Race Williams” (Part 3) (August 1931, Black Mask)
  • “Death for Two” (September 1931, Black Mask)
  • “The Amateur Murder” (Part 1) (April 1932, Black Mask)
  • “The Amateur Murder” (Part 2) (May 1932, Black Mask)
  • “The Amateur Murder” (Part 3) (June 1932, Black Mask)
  • “The Amateur Murder” (Part 4) (July 1932, Black Mask)
  • “The Death Drop” (May 1933, Black Mask)
  • “If Death Is Respectable” (July 1933, Black Mask)
  • “Murder In The Open” (October 1933, Black Mask)
  • “Six Have Died” (May 1934, Black Mask)
  • “Flaming Death” (June 1934, Black Mask)
  • “Murder Book” (August 1934, Black Mask)
  • “The Eyes Have It” (November 1934, Black Mask)
  • “Some Die Hard” (September 1935, Dime Detective)
  • “Dead Hands Reaching” (November 1935, Dime Detective)
  • “Corpse & Co. (February 1936, Dime Detective)
  • “Just Another Stiff” (April 1936, Dime Detective)
  • “City of Blood” (October 1936, Dime Detective)
  • “The Morgue Is Our Home” (December 1936, Dime Detective)
  • “Hell With The Lid Lifted” (March 1939, Dime Detective)
  • “Body, Body—Who’s Got the Body?”(October 1944, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine)
  • “A Corpse Loses Its Head” (March 1945, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine)
  • “Unremembered Murder” (March 1947, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine)
  • “This Corpse On Me” (June 1947, Thrilling Detective)
  • “I’ll Feel Better When You’re Dead” (December 1947, Thrilling Detective)
  • “Not My Corpse” (June 1948, Thrilling Detective [UK]; also in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories)
  • “Race Williams’ Double Date” (August 1948, Dime Detective)
  • “The Wrong Corspe” (Febuary 1949, Thrilling Detective)
  • “Half a Corpse” (May 1949, Dime Detective)
  • “Race Williams Cooks a Goose” (October 1949, Dime Detective)
  • “The $100,000 Corpse” (March 1950, Popular Detective)
  • “The Strange Case of Alta May” (April 1950, Thrilling Detective)
  • “Little Miss Murder” (June 1952, Smashing Detective Stories)
  • “This Corpse Is Free!” (September 1952, Smashing Detective Stories)
  • “Gas” (June 1953, Smashing Detective Stories)
  • “Head Over Homicide” (May 1955, Smashing Detective Stories)


  • The Snarl of the Beast (1927) Buy this book
  • The Hidden Hand (1929) Buy this book
  • The Tag Murders (1930)
  • Tainted Power (1931)
  • The Third Murderer (1931)
  • The Amateur Murderer (1933)
  • Murder From the East (1935) Buy this book
  • Better Corpses (1940)



  • The Adventures of Race Williams (1989) Buy this book
    Collects the first five stories Daly did for Dime Detective.
  • Race Williams’ Double Date and Other Stories (2014) Buy this book.
  • Them That Lives By Their Guns (2015) Buy this book
    The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume One
  • The Snarl of the Beast (2017) Buy this book
    The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume Two
  • Shooting Out of Turn (2017) Buy this book
    The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume Three
  • If Death Is Respectable (2018) Buy this book
    The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume Four
  • Just Another Stiff (2019) Buy this book
    The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume Five
  • Gang Man’s Gallows (2020) | Buy this book
    The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume Six
  • Unremembered Murder (2022) | Buy this book
    The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams,  Volume 7


  • Altus Press’ ambitious reprinting of Daly’s Race Williams stories and novels, which started in 2015, have an extra appeal for fans of this site. The covers all boast noir-riffic photos by long-time contributor (and Jersey Boy) Mark Krajnak.



  • July 22, 2023
    The Bottom Line: Look out, bad guys! This seminal, trigger-happy private eye “makes Mike Hammer look like Alan Alda,” says Andrew Vachss, “You can’t make a hamburger without grinding up a little meat,” says Race.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Original cover scan of Murder from the East courtesy of Mark Terry at Facsimile Dust Jackets.

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