Created by Leigh Brackett
“I am a private dick…That means, according to all the storieds I’ve read, that I’m tough, resilient and bullet proof. Also infallibly brilliant. So don’t worry…”
— (people should worry)
FEBRUARY SMITH is the hero of “The Death Dealer,” a 1943 novella by Leigh Brackett, written a year before her acclaimed first full-length novel, No Good From a Corpse. But if you loved Ed Clive, the hard, tough private eye hero of that acclaimed novel, do yourself a favour, and hunt down February’s one and only appearance. It’s good stuff.
February’s a tall, abrasive private op with red hair, green eyes, a “thin hungry face,” and an attitude, with an office in Hollywood, where he has more than a few ties to the “flicker factory.” Not that it’s done him much good over the years. He seems to get pushed around quite a bit, and he’s rubbed more than a few Tinsel Town muckety-mucks the wrong way over the years, most notably C. J. Brandenburger, a big shot producer with a weakness for starlets, a jealous streak a mile wide, possible mob ties, and a rapidly diminishing bank account, who’s placing all of his chips on his next film.
He doesn’t get along very well with the cops either, particularly Detective Lieutenant Harold Palfrey, whom he insists on calling “Horse”–to his face.
Too bad, because he needs all the help he can get in this cockamamie case. It involves a disfigured movie star out for revenge, an old lover of Smith’s who’s set to star in Brandenburger’s new epic, a couple of murderous thugs, and someone sending out death threats via mail, scrawled on playing cards.
Along the way, throats are slashed, people are shot, beat up and poisoned, sexual obsessions are exposed, and everyone is betrayed at one point or another.
In other words, good pulpy fun. It’s a shame Brackett didn’t write more crime fiction–the little she did leave us is absolutely first rate. But the galaxy and Hollywood beckoned…
- “The same old Smith…. gentle as a mule’s hind hoofs, and chivalrous as hell. I might have known.”
— old lovers can be so cruel
- “You going to talk, Bray?”
“You bet. You bet I’ll talk.” (Bray, who’s been shot in the gut)
The ambulance doctor shrugged and said, “You better make it quick.”
- “The Death Dealer” (March 1943, Flynn’s Detective Fiction; aka “The Misfortune Teller”)
The story was finally collected in the 1999 Dennis McMillan edition of No Good from a Corpse.