Created by Fletcher Flora
Pseudonyms include Timothy Harrison, Ellery Queen
“My name is Percy Hand, and I’m a private detective. My privacy is rarely invaded. This makes the rent a problem, but it gives me plenty of time to watch the rain come down into the alley on rainy days.”
Now almost forgotten, but back in the day author Fletcher Flora was a good and prolific writer, best known for a slew of well-regarded short stories in the forties and fifties. He was a regular contributor to both Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and the numerous Hitchcock anthologies, as well as Manhunt and other digests of the time.
He wrote a lot of crime stories–police procedurals, thrillers, hard-boiled suspense, lesbian, softcore, and more than a few private eye stories, and yet rarely repeated a character.
Fortunately for us, one of the few exceptions was PERCIVAL “PERCY” HAND. Mind you, it wasn’t much of a series: a couple of short stories, and one novel, itself simply an expansion of one of the stories.
Still, it’s good stuff. And a little bit more ambitious than some of his contemporaries.
Hand might seem right off the rack at first–a sardonic, smart ass private eye, struggling to make it in the big bad (but unnamed) city, inexplicably irresistible to women (or thugs wanting to knock him out), a little too fond of the bottle, and leaning heavily on the Chandler.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But Percy (Percy!) is a bit snappier than most when he makes snaps wise, as in this exchange when a dame (there’s always a dame) says to him in Leave Her to Hell (1958) “I’ve always wanted to kiss a man as ugly as you. It wasn’t bad.”
Our gallant hero’s response? “Thanks. I’ve had worse myself.”
Or when he suggests a woman has “a face like half a walnut.”
The stories are the usual gumbo of blackmail, cheating spouses, small time hoods, missing persons, missing money, shady nightclub owners, murder–and plenty of it, but Percy (whose receptionist is an electric buzzer) is an intriguing character, a decent and even honourable man who worries over his professional ethics, realizing he’s in a business that doesn’t have much call for them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fletcher Flora was born in Parsons, Kansas in 1914, and received an associate’s degree at Pittsburg State University, a bachelor’s degree at Kansas State College and did graduate work at the University of Kansas. He married Betty Ogden, a librarian, in 1940, and they had three children, Harrison, Timothy and Susan. Fletcher worked as a high school teacher, teaching high school English and history, and coaching basketball and track, and served as assistant county clerk in Fulton County, Missouri, until he was drafted into the U.S Army in 1943. After the war, he became an Education Advisor of the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Leavenworth, Kansas (a position he held until until 1963), and took up writing. His short crime fiction was published in magazines like Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Manhunt, Ed McBain’s Mystery Book, Detective Story Magazine, Detective Tales, Pursuit, Shell Scott Mystery Magazine, Escapade, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Dime Detective et al, even making it into the slicks like Cosmopolitan. He published eighteen or so books, even ghostwriting three Ellery Queen novels, and completing Stuart Palmer’s last Hildegarde Withers novel, Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene, after Palmer’s death in February 1968. Flora wasn’t big on series characters, but he did crank out a few other interesting private eyes in various standalones and short fiction, including Gaspar Vane and Danny Clive.
- There’s some speculation that “The Stripteaser and the Private Eye,” a short story featuring mystery writer Stuart Palmer’s private eye Howie Rook, published in the November 1968 issue Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, was actually written by Flora. This was the same year Flora–following Pa;lmer’s unexpected death early in the year–had been commissioned to complete Palmer’s unfinished manuscript, and for some reason, the manuscript for the short story was found in Flora’s papers, now held at the University of Kansas.
- “I woke up at seven in the morning, which is a nasty habit of mine that endures through indiscretions and hangovers and intermittent periods of irregular living.”
- “… a breezy, well plotted 1950s private eye novel with a minimum of sex and violence and a maximum of wit and intelligence – highly recommended.”
— Cavershamragu on Leave Her to Hell (2016, Tipping My Fedora)
- “Why Flora chose not to turn him into a series character is a mystery.”
— Bill Pronzini (December 2019, Mystery*File)
- “I had a wonderful time reading this book. Flora’s dialogue is great, the plot is suitably complex without being hard to follow (with a very nice twist at the end, by the way), the tone is light and breezy for the most part but has some darker undertones here and there, and most importantly to me, while I was reading it I felt like I was back in high school again, devouring all the private eye novels I could get my hands on. That’s enough reason right there for me to give it a high recommendation.”
— James M. Reasoner on Leave Her to Hell
- “… enthralling detective fiction by a master storyteller. The usual private dick clichés apply… but they’re also handled well, with some of the old standbys turned upside down. There’s also a whopper of a twist that the reader won’t see coming and leads to a very satisfying outcome. It’s a shame Fletcher Flora didn’t untilize Percy Hand for further adventures.”
— PeterEnfantino & Jeff Vorzimmer on “Loose Ends” (2021, The Manhunt Companion)
- “Loose Ends” (August 1958, Manhunt; also October 2020, Black Cat Mystery Magazine)
- “For Money Received” (October 1964, AHMM) | Kindle it!
- Leave Her to Hell (1958) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Leave Her to Hell/Let Me Kill You, Sweetheart/Take Me Home (2015) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
A Stark House hat trick, featuring three Flora reprints. Only Leave Her to Hell features Percy. But Bill Pronzini’s intro is a keeper.
THE DICK OF THE DAY
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.