Luther McGavock

Created by Merle Constiner
(1902-79)

LUTHER McGAVOCK was a Memphis-based private eye whose cases on behalf of agency boss Atherton Browne took him all over the rural American South. He appeared in some stories in Black Mask, all packed with peculiar goings-on, bizarre characters and oddball plots, often revolving around the most arcane bits of trivia, not unlike Constiner’s other pulp character, the fortune-telling con artist/gumshoe known as The Dean.

But the stories featuring McGavock tended to the darker side, full of odd, black humour and featured some pretty bloody doings. Nobody was ever completely trustworthy in the series, including McGavock himself. Nor was he entirely likable, being a mite surly and less than tactful, one of the reasons he’d bounced around almost every detective agency in the South. Seems the agencies loved the results he would get, but weren’t too fond of the man himself.

Constiner was born in Ohio, but lived most of his life elsewhere, much of it in the South. He had a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University, and minored in medieval history.

UNDER OATH

  • “Just finished the Constiner (collection) last week and it was great… Plots are kind of shaggy, with each climaxing In a gathering of the suspects to reveal the culprit scene, a standard trope that is at odds with the freshness of the rest of the stories. Each is set in a backwoods Southern town and loaded with vivid, eccentric characters, sharp amusing dialogue and some startlingly beautiful descriptions of the town and countryside.”
    — J.C. Hocking (November 2020, Pulpscans)

SHORT STORIES

  • “Let the Dead Alone.” (July 1942, Black Mask)
  • “Let’s Count Corpses.” (September 1942, Black Mask)
  • “Why Meddle with Murder?” (Jan 1943, Black Mask)
  • “The Turkey Buzzard Blues.” (July 1943, Black Mask); also 1977, The Hard-Boiled Detective)
  • “Kill One, Skip One.” (November 1943, Black Mask)
  • “The Hound with the Golden Eye.” (May 1944, Black Mask),
  • “Killer Stay ‘Way from My Door.” (November 1944, Black Mask)
  • “Until the Undertaker Comes.” (March 1945, Black Mask)
  • “Hand Me Down My Thirty-Eight.” (January 1946, Black Mask)
  • “Dead on Arrival.” (March 1947, Black Mask)
  • “Bury Me Not.” (January 1948, Black Mask)

COLLECTIONS

  • Let the Dead Alone: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Luther McGavock (2020) Buy this book
    Intro by Evan Lewis, illustrated by Peter Kuhlhoff, cover by Rafael DeSoto
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Much thanks to Monte Herridge for helping to fill in the blanks here.

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