They Coulda Been Contenders
The hard-boiled highway’s jammed with broken heroes who never got a chance. Here are three of the forgotten who could have been contenders…
- Robert Reeves (1912-45)
Creator of private eye Cellini Smith and hard-boiled trucker and “highway detective” Bookie Barnes, this young New Yorker showed promise as a pulp writer, with a definite gift for injecting humour into his tales, drawing comparisons to other pulp writers such as Frank Gruber and Norbert Davis, and whose novels and short stories were cited by Ron Goulart as “fine examples of the screwball side of the hardboiled school.” Encouraged by his early success (a novel, Dead and Done For was his first published work) Reeves he moved out to Hollywood, intent on breaking into writing for the film industry. But in the summer of 1942, with war raging, Reeves, then thirty, enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the Air Corps, serving in the 500th Bombardment Squadron of the 345th Bombardment Group in the South Pacific. Reeves was killed, possibly in a plane crash or a jeep accident, only only a month before the war ended.
- William Ard (1922-60)
A long-time favourite of mine, Brooklyn-born Ard was one of the unjustly forgotten hard-boiled writers of the fifties. An ex-Marine, a publicist and copywriter, he also worked for a brief time, just after WWII , as a detective. His career burned bright but fast, lasting little more than a decade, but in that time he managed to create several intriguing New York private eyes Timothy Dane, Lou Largo, Johnny Stevens, Barney Glines and Mike (later Danny) Fountain, as well as a string of equally well-regarded westerns (as Jonas Ward). Other pseudonyms included Ben Kerr, Thomas Wills and Mike Moran. He was only 38 when he died of cancer.
- Norbert Davis (1909-49)
One of the great tragic figures among the pulp writers of the thirties and forties, Davis wrote westerns, war stories and adventure tales as well as well as crime and detective fiction. Yet, he never quite got the recognition he deserved (and even now, he’s at most a cult favourite), mostly because he abandoned his forte, a humourously hard-boiled crime hybrid he had perfected in the pulps, for a chance to write for the more lucrative market of the slicks. And it certainly didn’t help that he committed suicide at the age of forty.