Created by Alan Farley
Pseudonym of Zale Herrington
Other pseudonyms include W. Lee Harrington
“No job is too odd for Trye to fill.”
Given the tendency of both male and female writers to obscure their gender behind initials and pseudonyms, a roll call of hard-boiled women writers of the detective and crime pulps doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But they did exist, and some of them were damn good.
A case in point is Alan Farley who was, according to E. R. Hagemann’s A Comprehensive Index to Black Mask, 1920-1951, the pseudonym of (Mrs.) W. Lee Herrington. Biographical information is scarce as hell – up until recently I didn’t even know what her real name was (turns out it’s “Zale”). But we know that her husband, W. Lee Herrington, was a fellow pulp writer (and a 1952 Best First Novel Edgar nominee for Carry My Coffin Slowly), and that they occasionally collaborated, sharing his byline. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe she was also W. Lee Harrington, and she’d buried hubby in the backyard. Suffice it to say it’s complicated.
But as “Alan Farley” she had at least a couple of stories published in Black Mask. They’re solid, enjoyable efforts that more than hold their own, but it was her short string of stories featuring MIKE TRYE that appeared in Dime Detective that really knocked my socks off.
Mike Trye wasn’t a private eye, per se–instead, he ran a rather peculiar employment agency from the third floor of the McNair Building that proudly boasted that “No job is too odd for Trye to fill.” But somehow dead bodies always seemed to pop up, making murder perhaps the oddest job of all.
And odd they were–and of a surprisingly domestic nature for the pulps, which rarely acknowledged a world beyond the mean streets. In “Death Burns the Beans” in the September 1945 issue, for example, Mike’s hired by a housewife to turn off a pot of beans (what else?) left simmering on a stove, and in “Malady in F” (June 1946) he’s tasked with escorting a young musical prodigy to a recital. In his final outing, “Hussies Prefer Homicide,” he’s hired by a soon-to-be-dead man to prevent somebody from drinking. Murder, of course, soon rears its ugly head (Hey! It’s the pulps!), but Trye proves to be an engaging and more-than-competent detective, despite his repeated protests that’s he’s not a private eye at all. But he certainly has more than a few tricks of his own (and some top notch wisecracks) up his sleeve.
What really made the stories so entertaining and refreshing (beyond the quick wit and loopy scenarios, reminiscent of fellow pulpster Norbert Davis at his whimsical best), and the surprising (for the pulps) emphasis on the concerns of the everyday housewives who made up much of Trye’s client base, was the writing itself, a Chandleresque sense of bruised romanticism and compassion with which “Alan” somehow invested her stories:
“I stood and watched her go down the stairs and out the dirty door. After that I went back and did what I had to do. My face felt cool for a long time where she had touched it.”
Trye appeared in at least four stories, but given the numerous bylines she used, there may be a few more lurking out there somewhere. somebody should do a collection.
- “A Mouse in the Hand” (November 1944, Dime Detective)
- “Death Burns the Beans” (September 1945, Dime Detective)
- “Malady in F” (June 1946, Dime Detective)
- “Hussies Prefer Homicide” (May 1950, Dime Detective; by Zale Herrington)
Supposedly a “Complete Book-Length Novel.”