Created by Carroll John Daly
Pseudonyms include John D. Carroll
“You don’t take me for no Sir Lancelot, do you?”
— Terry explains he ain’t that kinda guy.
Here’s the real deal!
Carroll John Daly’s THREE GUN TERRY is the very first hard-boiled private eye.
Because, of course, with any such statement, there are bound to be differences of opinion. A case could certainly be made for Octavius Roy Cohen’s private eye Jim Hanvey, the slick hick gumshoe who was already detecting in The Saturday Evening Post at least a year earlier, although Cohen’s style tended to run more to con men and their rich victims. Or John E. Bruce’s Sadipe Okukenu, a black detective working for a large agency, who first appeared fifteen years earlier than that, in 1907, although “hard-boiled” isn’t the first adjective that comes to mind for either of them. So the first “hard-boiled private eye,” as we’ve come to understand the term, was indeed Three Gun Terry. There. I’ve said it. Deal with it!
Oh, sure, sometimes credit is given to Daly’s much more popular Race Williams, but Terry actually made his eponymous debut in the seminal hardboiled pulp, The Black Mask two whole weeks earlier than Race’s “Knights of the Open Palm.” Not that it matters much — they’re more or less the same guy (as is the unnamed protagonist in Daly’s even earlier story “The False Burton Combs,” which predates both Terry AND Race). But they were all cut from the same cloth: quick to fight, quick to shoot and quick to use some questionable logic to justify their actions.
And if you don’t like it, the Hell with you!
William F. Nolan, in an intro to a reprint to the story in his highly recommended 1985 anthology, The Black Mask Boys, had this to say:
“Three Gun Terry” represents a “major” first in the genre of crime fiction. It is the first tough detective story starring the world’s first wise-cracking, hard-boiled private investigator…
Terry Mack is the prototype for ten thousand private eyes who have gunned, slugged, and wisecracked their way through ten thousand magazines, books, films and TV episodes.
In this early, raw pulp novelette, Daly produced what may be termed “instant clichés.”
Example; “Something like a ton of bricks comes down and…after that…everything goes black.”
Or: “I’m off dames; they don’t go well with my business.”
This pioneer private-eye tale is remarkable in that almost every cliché that was to plague the genre from the 1920’s into the 1980’s (when Nolan’s piece was written) is evident…
But whatever faults this story possesses, it’s the one that fathered Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer and Travis McGee and…
First is first.”
He charged fifty dollars a day, five hundred as a bonus when he “delivered the goods” and proudly stated that “for every man I croak–mind you, I ain’t a killer, but sometimes a chap’s got to turn a gun–I get two hundred dollars flat.”
What could be fairer than that?
Sadly, Three Gun only appeared in two short stories, although Daly brought him back one more time a few years later, in the rather disappointing novel, The Man in the Shadows (1928), that yoyoed from the present back to the Klondike gold rush, with plenty of action and mayhem along the way, but not much sense.
- “I have a little office which says “Terry Mack, Private Investigator,” on the door, which means whatever you wish to think it. I ain’t a crook, and I ain’t a dick; I play the game on the level, in my own way. I’m in the center of a triangle; between the crook and the police and the victim. The police have had an eye on me for some time, buy only an eye, never a hand; they don’t get my lay at all. The crooks; well, some is on, and some ain’t; most of them don’t know what to think, until I’ve put the hooks in them. Sometimes they gun for me, but that ain’t a one-sided affair.”
- “When it comes to shooting, I don’t have to waste time cleaning my gun.”
- “My life is my own, and the opinions of others don’t interest me, so don’t form any, or if you do, keep them to yourself. If you want to sneer at my tactics, why go ahead, but do it behind the pages — you’ll find that healthier.”
— Terry introduces himself in “Three Gun Terry”
- “Three Gun Terry” (May 15, 1923, The Black Mask; also included in The Black Mask Boys) | Kindle it!
- “Action! Action!” (January 1, 1924, The Black Mask)
- The Man in the Shadows (1928) | Buy this book
- The Man in the Shadows: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Terry Mack (2021) | Buy this book
Contains both short stories, plus The Man in the Shadows and an all-new introduction by Evan Lewis.
- The Vintage Library: Carroll John Daly
A brief bio and a collection of links to downloadable pdf stories and novels.
- Who’s on First?
The First Hard-Boiled Private Eye Story
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.