Created by Dana Chambers
Pseudonym of Albert Leffingwell; other pseuds include Giles Jackson
Judging from the eyeball-rolling monicker and the great pulp-style illos on the American mass market paperback editions, full of guns, booze and babes, you’d certainly be forgiven if you thought JIM STEELE was some two-fisted brawling tough guy P.I.
But you’d be wrong.
By Jim’s own account, in The Blonde Died First (1941), “I am not a professional detective. Not even an amateur detective, really. I write radio thrillers rather successfully. It just so happens I have been pitchforked, literally, into situations which had got out of all control, and have been lucky enough to get surprisingly good breaks in straightening them around… I have, be it stated without either pride or regret, a quite insatiable intellectual curiousity.”
So Jim-Boy is really just a self-consciously he-man version of Murder, She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher, and his adventures are related in a faux-hard-boiled style that is often unintentionally hilarious.
So what’s he doing here on this site? I’m not quite sure. But in the 1940s, Chambers was a prolific and relatively popular writer of medium-boiled mysteries, and if Steele wasn’t a private eye, boiled or otherwise, he sure tended to try to act like one — and the publishers tried to pass him off as one.
The author’s real name was Albert Leffingwell, which originally made me suspect that he may have been one of those Englishman who was merely trying to sound “American,” but such wasn’t the case. Constant reader Paul Tozer clued me in: Leffingwell was born in Massachusetts.
Steele worked out of the Big Apple, but his first case, 1939’s Some Day I’ll Kill You took him to Connecticutt, and his last bow, 1946’s The Case of Caroline Animus, had him rambling around Miami.
Steele appeared in seven novels in the thirties and forties were all originally published by The Dial Press, and must have been quite popular at the time, all being reprinted numerous times by assorted paperback publishers such as Handi-Books, Jonathan Press and Popular.
Chambers wrote for many of the crime pulps of the time, and also wrote thrillers as Giles Jackson.
STRAIGHT FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY
- “Having just read the first few hundred words of Some Day I’ll Kill You, I can see exactly why you’d think that — the style is beyond parody. But according to Wiki, Leffingwell was born in Cambridge, MA and died in New Haven, CT. From his background — Harvard-educated advertising executive with a taste for poetry — I’m guessing he was actually a wealthy highbrow type who wouldn’t know a mean street from a hacksaw, and who wrote hard-boiled fiction as a kind of hobby. Just my two pennyworth, as we real Brits say.”
— Paul Tozer
- “I told them my name was Jim Steele, just for the hell of it.”
— Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951). Steele is referenced a few times in the novel, but it’s unclear whether Salinger even knew there was a fictional detective with the same name.
- Some Day I’ll Kill You (1939) | Buy this book
- Too Like the Lightning (1939) | Kindle it!
- She’ll Be Dead by Morning (1940) | Buy this book
Originally appeared in the September 1940 issue of The American Magazine.
- The Blonde Died First (1941) | Buy this book
- The Frightened Man (1942) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Last Secret (1943) | Buy this book
- The Case of Caroline Animus (1946) | Buy this book