Curt Flagg

Created by Lester Dent
Writing as A Newspaperman, A London Detective, A Police Reporter & John Wiley
(1905-1959)

“It takes big, thick fingers and tremendous strength to clasp a man’s face with one hand, seize his throat with the other, and break his neck.”
— the first line of the first Curt Flagg story. Let’s get this party started…

CURT FLAGG, the first of Lester Dent’s many great characters, made his unheralded debut in Scotland Yard, a decidely minor league pulp. And just in case anyone was paying attention, each of the Flagg stories appeared under a different byline (apparently branding hadn’t been invented yet).

But like they say, from small things, baby, big things one day come.

When we first encounter him in the amazing  “Wildcat, Flagg’s an “agency man” for the New York City-based Taylor Detective Agency, dispatched to the Oklahoma oil fields for reasons unknown. He was a big galoot, with fists “the size of gallon pails” and not afraid to use them — or any other weapon that was within reach. According to pulp historian Will Murray, Flagg “bashed and brawled his way through his cases, breaking bones, ribs and noses, and piling up corpses with his furious fists.”

This is some kind of story, right there. It scans like Dashiell Hammett‘s  Red Harvest with the brakes off, but that makes sense — apparently Dent was a big fan of Hammett, who was riding high in Black Mask at the time, but these early Flagg stories, with their simmering brutality and violence and “kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out” ethos, were more akin to Black Mask‘s most popular: Carroll John Daly, and his eye-for-an-eye private eye, Race Williams.

But Dent was a fast learner, and the evolution of the action-packed Flagg stories was astounding in such a beginning writer. The second story, ultimately entitled “Doom Ship,” has Flagg tracking a villain almost all the way to London, while “One Billion—Gold” has our hero confronting “super-villains” in the Empire State Building, which opened the same month the story first appeared. Flagg’s rise through the ranks is equally swift., going from mere operative to full-fledged partner in just three stories. Indeed, such was the swiftness of Dent’s skills as a writer that by the time the final Flagg story, “The Sign of the Adder,” appeared, Dent has already created a couple of other series characters, Lynn Lash, a gadget-loving scientific detective, and some doofus called Doc Savage.

UNDER OATH

  • “It is the authentic voice of Lester Dent, narrating a merry holocaust of automatic weapons fire, explosion, murder, maniacal swoops in elevator and airplane to the chasm of death. Slaughter begins with the forst words. Blood gutters along the paragraphs. The story races onward, an unrelenting fury.”
    — Robert Sampson on “Wildcat” in Deadly Excitements: Shadows and Phantoms (1989)

SHORT STORIES & NOVELLAS

  • “Wildcat” (March 1931, Scotland Yard; as by A Tulsa Newspaperman)
  • “Doom Ship” (May 1931, Scotland Yard; as by A London Detective)
  • “One Billion—Gold” (June 1931, Scotland Yard; as by A Police Reporter)
  • “The Sign of the Adder” (November 1933, All Detective Magazine, as by John Wiley)

COLLECTIONS

  • Fists of Fury: The Adventures of Curt Flagg (2011) Buy this book 

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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