Johnny Liddell

Created by Frank Kane
Pseudonyms include Frank Boyd
(1912 – 1968)

 

Frank Kane‘s New York private eye JOHNNY LIDDELL may have never been essential reading, he was arguably the quintessential fifties private eye, comfortably and even enjoyably generic, an endlessly malleable amalgamation of everything that made that decade’s dicks swing. Created by Kane for an 1944 for a pulp story, and went on to write countless novels and short stories about him. His paperback covers were often top-notch, with covers by some of the hottest illustrators of the day (by artists such as Bill George, Victor Kalin, Harry Bennett, Robert Stanley, Robert McGinnis, etc.) and he made frequent appearances in all the crime digests, including Manhunt and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine

Johnny started out as an agency man, but by Bullet Proof (1951), he was out on his own, with his own New York agency. In fact, Johnny was so generic that as the genre evolved, so did he. Originally, pretty much a riff on Hammett’s Continental Op, but the fifties he was riffing closer to Spillane’s Mike Hammer, somehow younger, slimmer, sexier and altogether more prone to violence than in his earlier incarnation. Nonetheless, it was a solid series, nothing really exceptional, perhaps, but fondly regarded by many, including myself. It got the job done, sorta like Johnny.

As Bill Crider put it on Rara-Avis in April 2000, if it’s a Frank Kane book, chances are “it’ll be a competent, straightforward P.I. story.”

Sure, Kane often cannibalized his earlier work, but then, so did Chandler. And Kane gets some bonus points for creating beautiful, redheaded reporter daughter Muggsy Kiely, who appears as Liddell’s girlfriend and occasional sidekick/foil in several novels; rather reminescent of Lucy Hamilton’s role in Mike Shayne cases.

Kane was also able to inject a little reality into the mix occasionally, thanks to his brother, Vincent, who was an plainclothes cop for the NYPD and sometimes provided technical advice. Kane supposedly spent much time talking to his brother — and other policemen in the force — learning about crime-oriented “tough guys” and gaining insight into their motivations. Through conversations with his brother, Kane developed opinions about how real life detectives might approach those on the wrong side of the law.) In fact, he actually wrote one NYPD cop novel based on his brother’s work.

In addition to the Johnny Liddell stories, he wrote one NYPD cop novel based on his brother’s work. He also wrote scripts for radio (The Shadow, The Fat Man, Gangbusters) and television shows (S.A.7, The Investigators, and most notably Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer). Rumours have it that many of the Hammer scripts were just adaptations of his Liddell stories with Hammer substituted for Liddell. Kane also wrote a couple of original novels based on characters from television series, Staccato (as Frank Boyd) and The Line-Up (as Frank Kane).

UNDER OATH

  • “Johnny Liddell is my kind of private eye: smart, tough, a bit of a wise-ass, a little world-weary at times, and hell on killers. Good stuff, I say.”
    James Reasoner (Rough Edges)
  • “Kane’s sharply focused cinematic setting of scenes and description of incident and character are strong attributes, as is his sense of atmosphere and place. Heck, writers cannibalizing their own work is part of how it’s done; ol’ Frank just went a little overboard at times. For me his weak point is that the Liddell character is so generic. Sort of a poor man’s Michael Shayne, which is how Dell packaged the series, which nearly always had terrific covers.”
    — Stephen Mertz

NOVELS

  • About Face (1947, aka “Death About Face,” “The Fatal Foursome”)
  • Green Light For Death (1949)
  • Slay Ride (1950)
  • Bullet Proof (1951)
  • Dead Weight (1951)
  • Bare Trap (1952)
  • Poisons Unknown (1953)
  • Grave Danger (1960)
  • Red Hot Ice (1955)
  • A Real Gone Guy (1956)
  • Trigger Mortis (1958)
  • A Short Bier (1960)
  • Time To Prey (1960)
  • Due Or Die (1961)
  • The Mourning After (1961)
  • Stacked Deck (1961)
  • Dead Rite (1962)
  • Crime Of Their Life (1962)
  • Ring-a-Ding-Ding (1963)
  • Hearse Class Male (1963)
  • Johnny Come Lately (1963)
  • Barely Seen (1964)
  • Final Curtain (1964)
  • Fatal Undertaking (1964)
  • The Guilt Edged Frame (1964)
  • Esprit De Corpse (1965)
  • Two To Tangle (1965)
  • Maid In Paris (1966)
  • Margin For Terror (1967)

SHORT STORIES

  • “”Murder at Face Value” (January 1944, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Dead Blood Runs Purple” (November 1944, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Suicide” (January 1945, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Morgue Star Final” (July 1945, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Slay Upon Delivery” (January 1946, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Marked for Death” (July 1946, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Murder Feeds the Flames” (September 1946, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Keeper of the Killed” (February 1948, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “Green Light for Death” (July 1949, Crack Detective Stories)
  • “The Uncertain Corpse” (November 1950, Scarab Mystery Magazine)
  • “The Frozen Grin” (January 1953, Manhunt)
  • “A Game of Murder” (February 1953, Mobsters)
  • “Dead Drunk” (Spring 1953, The Saint Detective Magazine)
  • “Payoff” (March 1953, Manhunt)
  • “Evidence” (July 1953, Manhunt)
  • “Slay Belle” (August 1953, Manhunt)
  • “It’s Murder” (November 1953, Pursuit Detective Story Magazine)
  • “Gory Hallelujah!” (December 1953, Private Eye)
  • “The Icepick Artists” (December 1953, Manhunt)
  • “Finish the Job” (January 1954, Manhunt)
  • “Bullets, Back to Back” (March 1954, The Saint Detective Magazine)
  • “Lead Ache” (May 1954, Manhunt)
  • “Frame” (August 1954, Manhunt)
  • “A Package for Mr. Big” (September 1954, The Saint Detective Magazine)
  • “Big Steal” (December 25 1954, Manhunt)
  • “Play-and-Slay Girl” (1954, Double-Action Detective Stories #1)
  • “Return Engagement” (February 1955, Manhunt)
  • “The Dead Grin” (June 1955, Manhunt)
  • “Make It Neat” (August 1955, Manhunt)
  • “The Dead Stand-In” (January 1956, Manhunt)
  • “Sleep Without Dreams” (February 1956, Manhunt; also, 1960, Dames, Danger, Death)
  • “Insurance” (March 1956, Accused Detective Story Magazine)
  • “The Killing” (May 1956, Accused Detective Story Magazine)
  • “Key Witness” (August 1956, Manhunt)
  • “Red, Hot–and Dead” (October 1956, Suspect Detective Stories)
  • “The Rumble” (February 1957, Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Dead Pigeon” (July 1957, Manhunt)
  • “Live Blonde–Dead Millionaire” (August 1957, Trapped Detective Story Magazine)
  • “The Patsy” (August 1957, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Dead Set” (December 1957, Manhunt)
  • “Trigger Mortis” (April 1958, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Dead Wrong” (August 1959, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Dead End” (October 1959, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Dead Reckoning” (December 1959, Manhunt)
  • “Dead Run” (January 1960, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Pass the Word Along” (April 1960, Manhunt)
  • “The Great Pretender” (July 1960, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “A Grave Matter” (August 1960, Web Detective Stories)
  • “The Mourning After” (April 1962, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Hearse Class Male” (September 1963, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • “Play Tough” (March 1965, Manhunt)
  • “Clean-Up” (May 1965, Manhunt)
  • “With Frame To Match” (1965, Come Seven, Come Death)

COLLECTIONS

  • Johnny Liddell’s Morgue (1956)
  • Stacked Deck (1961)

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Jim Doherty for some of the info on this page, and a tip of the fedora to David Spencer for the heads-up. And a very special thanks to Maura Fox, Frank Kane’s grand-daughter, for all the extra info.

2 thoughts on “Johnny Liddell

  1. I just wanted to point out that “The Living End (1957)” is listed on your website in a couple of places as a Johnny Liddell novel but it is definitely not “Johnny”. I own a copy of the book and there is no Liddell in it.

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