Created by Day Keene
Pseudonym of Gunnar Hjerstedt
Other pseudonyms include Lewis Dixon, William Richards, Daniel White, John Corbett & Donald King
TOM DOYLE is a “private agency man” for Chicago’s Inter-Ocean Agency, just back from World War II, who appeared in a string of short stories and novellas in the Detective Tales pulp. He also popped up in at least one novel, If the Coffin Fits (1952), presumably expanded from the previously published 1945 short story of the (almost) same name. Or maybe the author just liked the title–writers of the pulps weren’t exactly beyond repurposing old material–be it titles, stories, characters or even plots–to fill the page. And writer Day Keene was one of the more prolific of the bunch.
To say the least.
But anyway you cut it, Keene was a helluva writer.
Unlike some of Keene’s crime fiction, there’s a lightheartedness to the Tom Doyle stories, not exactly screwball or zany, perhaps, but far from the grim and often po-faced fare of some of Keene’s contemporaries, more reminiscent of, say Norbert Davis or Robert Reeves, offering a little compassion and humanity that seemed to strike a chord with readers.
Like the way Tom deals with his female coworkers. In “The Farmer’s Daughter Murders,” for example, there’s a fine little piece of friendly banter with his secretary, Sue, and in “A Minor Matter of Murder,” Tom’s chats comfortably with Elsie, another secretary, about her dinner plans (not with him). Neither scene is really pertinent to either plot, but they show Tom as a decent guy who genuinely cares about the people in his life. He’s certainly tough enough when he needs to be, but there’s also a warmth and empathy about him that I found appealing. He even shows up in a crossover tale with Keene’s Doc Egg, a crime-solving pharmacist–a rare crossover in the Keene canon.
Now, the novel-length version of If the Coffin Fits, released by Graphics in 1952, with the notorious needle cover, is a whole other story. In fact, it may not even have anything to do with the short story with the (almost) same title.
In the novel, Tom leave Chicago behind to take on a job in Central City, Nevada, on behalf of a friend of a friend who’s been charged with murder. But it turns out Central City is rotten through and through, rife with corruption and graft, all under the thumb of Mr. Big, and all the warmth and empathy of the short stories won’t help Tom now–in the course of a few days, he’s beaten up, drugged, beaten up, drugged, sapped, propositioned, pistol-whipped, arrested, and beaten up again. As Bill Crider pointed out, “the only sleep Doyle gets is when he’s knocked unconscious (which is often) or drugged. The story is a lot more complicated than I can describe here, but it’s a lot of fun. If you like the old-fashioned pulp-styled p.i. stories, you’d find a lot to like here. I know I did.”
In fact, if you do like the “old-fashioned pulp-styled p.i. stories,” Day Keene sure wrote a lot of ’em. His plots were often outrageous, but he always displayed a sure and steady hand with the rough stuff, during his very long and prolific career, not just in the pulps, but also in the theater, radio, paperbacks and television.
- “The Farmer’s Daughter Murders (na) Oct 1944, Detective Tales)
- “Dead—as in Mackerel! (na) Detective Tales Feb 1945, Detective Tales)
- “If the Coffin Fits” (March 1945, Dime Mystery; Doc Egg)
- “A Minor Matter of Murder” (December 1945, Short Stories)
- “As Deep as the Grave” (January 1946, Detective Tales)
- “Three Queens of the Mayhem” (Febuzary 1946, Detective Tales)
- “Pardon My Corpse” (July 1946, Detective Tales)
- “Come Seven, Come Slaughter” ( April 1947, Detective Tales)
- “Fry Away, Kentucky Babe!” (December 1947, Detective Tales)
- “Blonde Trouble in Nightmare City” (August 1948, Detective Tales)
- If the Coffin Fits (1952) | Buy this book