Big John Novak

Created by Harlan Ellison
Pseudonyms include Jay Charby, Landon Ellis, Sley Harson, Ellis Hart, John Magnus & Jay Solo

“I’m built low enough to keyholes so I don’t have to bend over when I’m checking on some dumb husband.”

A former circus performer (when he was “younger and dumber”) who became a “two-bit eye,” three-foot-two BIG JOHN NOVAK was Harlan Ellison’s attempt to create the first mystery story featuring “a little person as a protagonist.”

Ellison himself admits it was “a hard trick to pull off. Twenty years later, the mystery writer George C. Chesbro penned a series of novels about a midget named Mongo. Being five- foot-three, and being impressed by how cleverly Richard Matheson told The Shrinking Man from the physical height of his diminuitiver protagonist without flaw, I found the Chesbro novels seriously flawed by their lack of understanding of the adjustments one should make as a storyteller when dealing with a person of diminuitive height.”

Unfortunately, Novak only appeared in one short story, “Killer in the Can,” which was published in the August 1956 issue of Trapped Detective Stories Magazine. In it, he’s threatened with having his license and gun permit taken away by the police, unless he agrees to help them take down a gunman who has already killed five cops and shot a dozen other people.

Although he’s celebrated as a science fiction and fantasy author (and a notoriously cutting, take-no-prisoners pop culture critic), Ellison enjoyed success in many genres, including crime fiction. He was a frequent contributor to numerous mystery and detective digests of the fifties and early sixties, including Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Trapped Detective Stories, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, The Saint Mystery Magazine and others, and even nabbed a couple of Edgars later on in his career. Two of the other eyes he created are Jerry Killian and Sheckley Scodell.


  • “Killer in the Can” (August 1956, Trapped Detective Stories Magazine; aka “Can Opener”)


  • Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word (2017)Buy this book
    Fourteen early stories from Ellison’s career, including “Can Opener,” as well as three stories featuring Jerry Killian, and another featuring Sheckley Scodell.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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