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,.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 Lady and the Mourning Man (1969) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- Blood on a Harvest Moon (1972) | Buy the book
- The Long Hard Cure (1979) | Buy the book
- THE MIDNIGHT MAN | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray
(1974, Universal Pictures)
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
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- 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