Created by Octavus Roy Cohen
Down these mean streets a man must waddle…
One of the earliest American private eyes to gain any real popularity, Octavus Roy Cohen’s JIM HANVEY was already appearing in The Saturday Evening Post a year before John Carroll Daly’s Three Gun Terry, although his style tended to run more to frighteningly folksy, dialect-laden narratives about con men and scam artists and their gullible rich victims, not hard-boiled tales of urban knights out to set the world right, armed only with a gun and a personal code of honour.
Still, the Hanvey stories can be quite fun, if you have a high tolerance for corn pone. Jim’s an intriguing combination of Jed Clampett and Sam Spade, part-detective, part-conman, and full-time good ol’ boy. He’s fat, slow-moving, has fishy eyes, smokes nasty little black cigars, wears cheap, shabby clothes that always seem to be on the point of bursting and is constantly fiddling with a gold toothpick he carries on a chain around his neck, a gift from a criminal he helped convict. He not only looks like a cow and–at first glance–apparently has the intelligence of one, too.
But he’s actually more like a sort of backwoods Nero Wolfe, a shrewd, highly-regarded detective with an “enviable reputation,” the “terror of crooks from coast to coast,” respected by both the law and often, the lawless, managing to maintain good relationships with more than one lawbreaker he’s had tossed in the can. Indeed, one character complains that he has more friends on the wrong side of the law than in legitimate circles.
Hanvey made most of his early appearances in short stories in The Saturday Evening Post, where much of the author’s other work was also published. The character was popular enough to spawn a couple of feature films, Curtain at Eight (1933, Majestic Pictures) and the aptly titled Jim Hanvey, Detective (1937, Republic).
Cohen created a few other detectives in his long and successful career: David Carroll, and more significantly, Florian Slappey, one of the first black eyes. The Florian stories, unfortunately, while arguably even more popular in their day than those featuring Hanvey, are now far more famous for their unflattering and offensive portrayal of African-Americans than their historical significance. Which may explain why so little of any of Cohen’s work has been reprinted, although I’m encouraged by the publication in 2021 of Jim Hanvey, Detective (originally published in 1923), as part of the Library of Congress Crime Classics series.
- “(Octavus Roy Cohen) is remembered if at all for egregious comic stereotypes of African Americans, as in the series about sometime-detective Florian Slappey. However benignly this Negro dialect humor may have been intended, let’s just say it is not likely to be reprinted any time soon.”
— Jon Breen
- “Fish Eyes” (May 6, 1922, The Saturday Evening Post; also 1923, Jim Hanvey, Detective)
- “Homespun Silk” (June 17 1922, The Saturday Evening Post; also 1923, Jim Hanvey, Detective)
- “Common Stock” (July 22, 1922, The Saturday Evening Post; also 1923, Jim Hanvey, Detective)
- “Helen of Troy, N.Y.” (October 7, 1922, The Saturday Evening Post; also 1923, Jim Hanvey, Detective)
- “Pink Bait” (July 7, 1923, Colliers; also 1923, Jim Hanvey, Detective)
- “The Knight’s Gambit” (July 8, 1923, The Chicago Tribune; also 1923, Jim Hanvey, Detective)
- “Caveat Emptor” (July 7, 1923, Colliers; also Jim Hanvey, Detective)
- “Buyer’s Risk” (May 9, 1924, The Detective Magazine)
- “Detective Hanvey Pays a Midnight Call” (May 1926, The American Magazine)
- “Free and Easy” (April 1926, Red Book Magazine; also 1927, Detours)
- “The Frame-up” (June 1928, The American Magazine)
- “As the Twig Is Bent” (November 1928, The American Magazine)
- “Jim Hanvey Intervenes” (February 1930, The American Magazine)
- “The Hollywood Bridal-Night Murder” (September 1931-January 1932, The Illustrated Detective Magazine; serialized in five parts)
- “A Gentleman for a Night” (October 1931, The American Magazine)
- “A Diamond Setting” (January 1932, The American Magazine)
- “Cold Cash” (March 1932, The American Magazine)
- “High Seize” (February 1934, The American Magazine)
- “Double Jeopardy” (December 1957, The Saint)
- Jim Hanvey, Detective (1923) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Reprinted in 1921, with introduction by Leslie S. Klinger.
- Detours (1927) | Buy this book
- Scrambled Yeggs (1934) | Buy this book
- The May Day Mystery (1929) | Buy this book
- The Backstage Mystery (1930) | Buy this book
- Star of Earth (1932) | Buy this book
- CURTAIN AT EIGHT | Buy the DVD
(aka “The Backstage Mystery)
(1934, Majestic Pictures)
Based on the 1930 novel by Octavus Ray Cohen
Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Directed by E. Mason Hopper
Starring C. Aubrey smith as JIM HANVEY
Also starring Dorothy Mackaill, Paul Cavanagh, Sam Hardy, Marion Shilling, Russell Hopton, Natalie Moorhead, Hale Hamilton, Ruthelma Stevens, Arthur Hoyt, Dot Farley, Jack Mulhall
Definitely not to be confused with MGM’s all-star Dinner at Eight, this one starred the “grand-old” C. Aubrey Smith as an elderly Hanvey. Plus, it’s got a monkey in it!
- JIM HANVEY, DETECTIVE | Buy the DVD
Based on a story by Octavus Roy Cohen
Adaptation by Cortland Fitzsimmons and Eric Taylor
Screenplay by Olive Cooper and Joseph Krumgold
Directed by Phil Rosen
Starring Guy Kibbee as JIM HANVEY
Also starring Tom Brown, Lucie Kaye, Edward Brophy, Catherine Doucet, Edward Gargan, Helen Jerome, Theodore von Eltz, Kenneth Thomson, Howard C. Hickman, Oscar Apfel, Wade Boteler, Robert Emmett Keane, Robert Homans, Harry Tyler, Frank Darien, Charles Williams
What happens when corn pine meets ham bone.
- A Note on Octavus Roy Cohen
Mystery critic and writer Jon Breen weighs in on the value of Cohen, in this short but fascinating article from Mysteryfile.com
- Early Eyes
Early Historical & Literary Influences on the P.I. Genre
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with further material supplied by Maurice Terenzio. The main illustration is from the September 1931 issue of The Illustrated Detective Magazine, in which the serialized version of “The Hollywood Bridal-Night Murder” begins.