Silas Booth

Created by J. Lane Linklater
Pseudonym of Alexander William Watkins
(1892-1971)

“You–you unprincipled scoundrel!”
(not all Booth’s clients were satisfied)

SILAS BOOTH was a private eye in post-World War II, a slick operative who oozes a lot of charm, but would rather collect his fees from criminals than from his clients–and he’s not shy about collecting by any means possible, up to and including blackmail and extortion. Make the guilty pay!

In his debut, Black Opal (1947), he doesn’t even have an investigator’s license (he’s been recently canned by “the Bureau”, and therefore is legally unable to take payment from clients), but–eyes always on a quick buck–he went on to appear in seven novels in the late forties and fifties, occasionally aided by his assistants, Gus Keyes, and secretary Daisy Gunn who, naturally, is a stunner. But throughout, his reimbursement M.O. remained constant.

It was a unique twist, not doubt born of the author’s long years in the pulp trenches of the thirties, cranking out several hundred stories for the crime and detective mags, including several featuring such colourful series characters as scam artist Paul C. Pitts and corner-cutting lawyer Hugo Oakes.

The Booth stories are twisty, turny affairs, full of quirky characters and quirkier liars, each trying to out-scam the others, which no doubt prompted Anthony Boucher in a review in the San Francisco Chronicle to rank the author “a Grade A professional of the (Erle Stanley) Gardner school.”

Certainly, there’s a distinct air of early Perry Mason in Booth’s amoral character, prompting Isaac Anderson in The New York Times in a review of …And She Had a Little Knife, to lament, “Time was when detectives, in faction at least, were honorable men concerned with apprehending the guilty and not with sordid gain. Truly, we have fallen upon evil days”

Linklater may have been born in north London, England (according to Hubin), but he apparently lived most of his life all over the U.S., including stays in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, and worked before becoming a writer, as related in an author bio in DFW, in “offices, restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, and again in offices; in large cities, small towns, construction and logging camps, in green valleys and desert plains,” often as a bookkeeper.

UNDER OATH

  • The Black Opal is the best of the Silas Booth novels in my opinion, but all are readable and enjoyable if you don’t expect too much. Pure pulp in the best sense of the term. Linklater wasn’t among the upper echelon of pulp writers, but he knew how to tell an entertaining story.”
    — Bill Pronzini (June 2012, Mystery*File)

NOVELS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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