“Tough Dick” Donahue

Created by Frederick Nebel

One of the hardest of the hard-boiled dicks was prolific pulpster Frederick Nebel‘s private eye “TOUGH DICK” DONAHUE, whom Cap Shaw of Black Mask hoped would replace The Continental Op after Dashiell Hammett stopped writing for that magazine.

There was certainly some reasons for their optimism. A big, burly Irishman and ex-cop, Donahue was a cold-as-ice, no-nonsense op who worked for the New York-based Inter-State Detective Agency run by Asa Hinkle, and could be counted on to trade in hot lead or fisticuffs, whatever the job called for.

He got the it done, in tough, terse stories filled with hard-boiled prose so tough you could whack it with a crowbar–pretty much the epitome of the tough-guy detective.

Nebel’s other major private eye was Cardigan, a slightly smarter and arguably slightly warmer version of Donahue (he was on friendlier terms with his co-workers, particularly fellow op, Patricia Seaward), although nobody would ever consider Cardigan a particularly easy-going fellow–he was a cold and nasty enough piece of work. It’s just that Donahue was colder and nastier. Cardigan’s adventures appeared in the pages of Black Mask‘s rival pulp,  Dime Detective. For a few years, the two series even ran concurrently.

By the way, you’re forgiven if you sometimes get Donahue and Cardigan confused–even Nebel had problems.  In the last Donahue story published, “Ghost of a Chance” (March 1935, Black Mask), Nebel apparently had Donahue working for the Cosmos Agency, which was Cardigan’s employer.



Frederick Nebel was oneof the most hard-boiled of the hard-boiled detective writers, born this day in 1903. In his long career, he racked up over 300 stories and novels, but is best known for his pulp fiction, most notably private eyes “Tough Dick” Donahue and Cardigan and a series about Kennedy of The Free Press and his cop buddy, Captain Steve MacBride.


  • “Rough Justice” (November 1930, Black Mask)
  • “The Red-Hots” (December 1930, Black Mask)
  • “Gun Thunder” (January 1931, Black Mask)
  • “Get a Load of This” (February 1931, Black Mask)
  • “Spare the Rod” (August 1931, Black Mask)
  • “Pearls Are Tears” (September 1931, Black Mask)
  • “Death’s Not Enough” (October 1931, Black Mask)
  • “Shake-Up” (August 1932, Black Mask)
  • “He Could Take It” (September 1932, Black Mask)
  • “Red Web” (October 1932, Black Mask)
  • “Red Pavement” (December 1932, Black Mask)
  • “Save Your Tears” (June 1933, Black Mask)
  • “Song and Dance” (July 1933, Black Mask)
  • “Champions Also Die” (August 1933, Black Mask)
  • “Ghost of a Chance” (March 1935, Black Mask)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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