Morgan Butler

Created by David Anthony
Pseudonym  of William Dale Smith

In his first book appearance, 1969’s The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man, David Anthony’s hard-boiled sleuth MORGAN BUTLER is a Korean War vet, a former cop and an ex-farmer who reluctantly takes on a gig as a campus security officer at Jordan College in Jordan City, Ohio, as a favour for a pal. But no good deed goes unpunished, and a simple burglary investigation leads Morgan to the discovery of a murdered co-ed.

By Morgan’s second book, Blood on a Harvest Moon (1972), he has retired and gone back to farming, but agrees (again somewhat reluctantly) to take an important case for his ex-wife. Her current husband has been murdered.

Apparently Morgan doesn’t learn quickly. In The Long Hard Cure (1979), his final appearance, he’s once again poking into things as a favour for another old friend–this time it’s the same doctor who helped him get through a few rough spots. Seems someone is terrorizing women in the area, and suspicions are that it’s one of the inmates at the good doctor’s psychiatric retreat.

The books are almost forgotten now, but from what I recall, they were deftly plotted, comparable to seventies-era Ross Macdonald, all swirling secrets from the past and slow-burn investigations, but harder and tighter in tone. Definitely worth looking for.

The first book in the series was subsequently was made into a Universal film, The Midnight Man (1974), starring Burt Lancaster, who also co-directed, co-wrote and co-produced. It also took considerable liberties with the book, perhaps most significantly changing Morgan’s name to Jim Slade, and making him an ex-con and a night watchman, just released from prison for shooting his wife’s lover. The film’s dated, but definitely enjoyable,.


Besides the Morgan Butler series, Anthony wrote a couple of novels featuring gambler and sometime-private eye Stan Bass. He also wrote a novel, A Multitude of Men (1959), that’s set in a steel mill, which makes sense, as in his author’s bio in The Midnight Lady and The Mourning Man, it’s revealed that he did work in a steel mill as well as being an ex-marine and a PI.


  • “I think the novel is strong and speaks eloquently in the voice of its era, the angry and bleak and desperate 60s and early 70s. I agree he was a good writer.”
    — Ed Gorman
  • “If you like private-eye fiction, Anthony’s books are worth a look.”
    — Bill Crider
  • “This was a top flight novel that impressed me greatly, and to extent I could find them I followed Anthony until his death. This and a few others from this era really excited me about the modern hardboiled era before everyone decided to be Parker and Spenser. This was one of the better debuts in a too brief flourishing of the genre.”
    — David Vineyard on The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man (September 2014, Mystery*File)



  • THE MIDNIGHT MAN | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray
    (1974, Universal Pictures)
    117 minutes
    Tagline: “The Ex-con. The Hippie. The Senator. The Pervert. The Lesbian. The Professor. The Sheriff. The Sadist. One of them is a murderer. All of them make the most fascinating murder mystery in years.”
    Based on the novel The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man by David Anthony
    Screenplay by Roland Kibbee and Burt Lancaster
    Produced by Roland Kibbee and Burt Lancaster
    Starring Burt Lancaster as JIM SLADE
    Also starring Susan Clark, Cameron Mitchell, Morgan Woodward, Harris Yulin, Robert Quarry, Joan Lorring, Lawrence Dobkin, Ed Lauter, Mills Watson, Charles Tyner, Catherine Bach, Roland Kibbee, Joan Lorring


  • October 8, 2023
    The Bottom Line: This former Korean War vet, cop and farmer rocked in three now-forgotten books in the 70s, reminiscent of Ross MacDonald, but harder, tougher. One inspired a decent Burt Lancaster flick, The Midnight Man.
Report respectfully submitted by David Nobriga, with additional info from Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Big Al Hubin for the well-deserved whack on the head, and to the real Morgan Butler for the background info on the author

2 thoughts on “Morgan Butler

  1. I first learned about this book right here on this site some years ago but I didn’t think I would like it as I’m not a whodunnit/detective novel type of guy. The reason I finally purchased it is because the main character has the the same first and last name as me! Yes, Morgan Butler is an ex-marine officer/ex-PI and now a contented farmer who still occasionally accepts side jobs as an investigator that will take the kind of cases that more legit investigators would avoid. He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, so to speak. I finally took the plunge and I’m glad I did! It’s quite well written and paced. It was published in 1969 but takes place in the early 60’s. Color me surprised when I found out that he has a suped-up, customized 1960 black Ford Falcon that he calls The Dark Lady. It has secret compartments that hold his Luger and 25. caliber Mauser pocket -pistol. As well as extra clothes, combat medic kit and papers/ID for an alternate identity. He really is a two-fisted, hardboiled type. Check me out, uh I mean Morgan Butler, uh, I mean the guy in the furshlugginer book out!

  2. Also, I found out, that the author’s real name was William Dale Smith. He died in 1985. He also wrote a book that takes place in a steel mill called A Multitude of Men. That makes sense as in his author’s bio in Midnight Lady and The Mourning Man he does state that he did work in a steel mill as well as being an ex-marine and a PI.

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