Murder in the Library: The Best Crime & Detective Pulps

An Honour Roll. A work in progress; highly subjective.

There were countless crime and detective pulps, of course, and almost all of them would, occasionally, publish some real gem of a story featuring a private eye, but remember — these were the pulps, and most of the stories, even in the hallowed pages of Black Mask or Dime Detective, were often, if not pure crap, then merely well-crafted filler.

Still, the following pulps had a higher batting average than most…

  • Black Mask (1920-51)
    Hammett, Chandler, Daly, Whitfield, Daly, Gardner… need I say more? It may have started out as a rather mediocre general fiction magazine (really mediocre, in fact), but under Cap T. Shaw it became what is generally regarded as the finest detective pulp magazine ever published.
  • Clues (1926-43)
  • Detective Fiction Weekly (see Flynn’s)
  • Detective Story (1915-49)
    The first pulp magazine devoted solely to detective fiction, it was actually a continuation of the Nick Carter dime novel series. It ran for an astounding 34 years, much of it on a weekly basis, eventually numbering over a thousand issues.
  • Detective Novels Magazine (1938-49)
    For most of its run, this one offered two short novels, a small selection of short stories and a few features as fillers, mainly on a bimonthly schedule. It was best known for two series: one featuring Jerry Wade (the Candid Camera Kid) and one starring The Crimson Mask. Later on, somewhere around 1944, it changed format, and began offering a single “novel” and a handful of short stories, and the title was changed to Detective Novel Magazine. It was a Better Publication, one of the imprints owned by Ned Pines and edited by Leo Margulies.
  • Detective Tales
  • Dime Detective (1931-53)
    The most successful of Popular Publication’s line of detective pulps, it paid better than Black Mask, and encouraged its writers to create series characters, making it arguably more consistent than its legendary rival. Writers included Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis, Merle Constiner, D.L. Champion, Frederick Nebel, Day Keene, Frederick C. Davis, John Carroll Daly, John D. MacDonald, Hank Searls and more.
  • Dime Mystery (1932-49)
    First known as Dime Mystery Book Magazine, it ran a “complete novel” and a few short stories, and was intended as a companion to its sister mag, Dime Detective, concentrating on the same sort of hard-boiled fare. But it shifted gears with the October 1933 issue, dropping the longer pieces and focussing on novellas and short stories. More significantly they began delving into a whole new genre: “weird menace,” a odd hybrid that bounced between stories of hard-boiled mystery or terror that occasionally included elements of both, while amping up the violence and sadism. By 1938, the “shudder pulp” genre had more or less run its course and the magazine began focussing on what has become known as the “defective detectives” — detectives, mostly private eyes, who had to overcame assorted physical handicaps and afflictions. But even that phase didn’t last too long — by the eartly forties the magazine had returned to straight ahead hard-boiled detective and adventure fiction, even if some of the story titles hadn’t got the memo.
  • Flynn’s (1924-51)
    Also known as Flynn’s Weekly, Flynn’s Detective Weekly, Detective Fiction Weekly (after the June 1928 issue) and a slew of other titles over the years, Flynn‘s was one of the most popular and longest running of all the detective pulps, racking up 929 issues over its twenty-eight year run. While it never enjoyed the commercial success of Black Mask or Dime Detective (with which it was eventually meged), its longevity alone earns it a spot on this list.
  • G-Men Detective (1935-53)
    Originally known as simply “G-Men,” this one started out focussing on “true crime” stories about assorted federal agents (with occassional editorials by J. Edgar Hoover), yet somehow, as time went on and particularly when the title switched to “G-Men Detective” in 1940, the “true crime” angle (always a bit dubious) was de-emphasized and the stories increasingly focussed on everything from pawnbrokers to, yes, private eyes. Contributors included Norman A. Daniels, Stewart Sterling, James M. Cain, Frank Gruber, Hugh B. Cave, Fredric Brown, John K. Butler, William Campbell Gault et al.
  • Gang World (1930-32)
    The first crime pulp from Popular Publications, it’s first run only lasted for two years, before falling prey to lagging sales and criticism that it was glorifying gangsters, but it published such writers as Joe Archibald, T.T. Flynn, John Lawrence, Gil Brewer and, most notably, Erle Stanley Gardner, whose Paul Pry stories were a regular treat.
  • Hollywood Detective
  • Mammoth Detective
  • Mammoth Mystery
  • Mystery (1917-29)
    Another pulp that started as a dime novel, but switched to the pulp format (in 1926).
  • New Detective
  • Popular Detective
  • Private Detective Stories
  • Private Eye Stories
  • Prize Detective
  • The Shadow
  • Spicy Detective
    Never one of the better pulp mags, filled as they were with mostly predestrian fare by spurious authors, but the “Spicies” certainly filled a niche, selling millions of copies of so-so adventure, western, detective and love stories, but all doused in a smirky, wink-wink suggestiveness, boasting some pretty risqué inner illustrations, censor-bait covers and innuendo-laden stories heated up to, as one pulp collector put it, “the point of luridness.” The line started with a single title, Spicy Detective Stories (April 1934), and soon spread to other genres, giving us out first look at Robert Leslie Bellem’s slang-spouting Dan Turner and Adolphe Barreaux’s Sally the Sleuth, arguably one of the very first comic heroes, predating even Superman. With the censors nipping at their heels, the word “Speed” was substituted for “Spicy” across the line.
  • Street & Smith’s Mystery
  • Super-Detective
  • Sure-Fire Detective
  • Ten Detective Aces
  • Ten Story Detective
  • Ten Story Mystery
  • Thrilling Detective (1931-53)
    Our namesake, although I swear that at the time I named this site I had no idea there was an old  pulp with the same monicker. Definitely not in the top tier, mind you, although it did feature some good stuff from the likes of Stewart Sterling, Steve Fisher, George Harmon Coxe, Frank Gruber and John D. MacDonald. Its most famous editor was Leo Margulies. The first of Ned Pines’s long line of pulp magazines. The editorial requirements, according to a 1933 issue of The Writer was “Action-packed, well-written and well-planned stories. Novels must be of the trip hammer type, with a murder in the first chapter and others later.”


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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