Thomas B. Dewey

Pseudonyms include Tom Brandt and Cord Wainer
(1915-81)

This bio, taken from Brian Ritt’s excellent Paperback Confidential, highlights the career of one of the true pioneers of the genre–Thomas B. Dewey, a man who bridged the gap between the Hammett/Chandler model and the more socially aware and compassionate eyes that followed, such as Lew Archer, Dan Fortune and Jack Liffey.

THOMAS B. DEWEY (not to be confused with “racket busting” New York District Attorney and former presidential candidate Thomas Dewey). Our Dewey was born in Elkhart, Indiana, 1915. Died in Tempe, Arizona, 1981.

Dewey created three memorable series characters during the Golden Age of paperbacks: Singer Batts, Pete and Jeanne Schofield and by far Dewey’s most popular creation, a private eye who went simply by the name of “Mac.”

Dewey graduated from Kansas State Teachers College in 1936, and did graduate work at the University of Iowa, 1937-38. From 1938-1942, he was an editor at Storycraft Inc., a correspondence school in Hollywood. He was an administrative and editorial assistant for the State Department in Washington DC (1942-45), worked in advertising in Los Angeles from 1945-1952, made a living as a full time novelist from 1952-1971 and was an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University, 1971-77.

Whew. No shirker, this Thomas B. Dewey.

Dewey introduced Singer Batts in Hue and Cry (1944). Batts is a small-town Midwestern hotel owner, Shakespearean scholar, and amateur sleuth. Dewey provides Batts with plenty of idiosyncrasies: Batts searches for his soul mate by writing to lonely-hearts clubs, intensively researches historical murder cases, and refuses to have his reading interrupted before finishing a chapter, no matter what’s happening around him. The Batts novels are narrated by Joe Spinder, the manager of the hotel and the tougher, more level-headed of the pair, who frequently has to help pull Batts out of one scrape after another. The three other Batts novels are As Good as Dead (1946), Mourning After (1950) and Handle With Fear (1951).

Dewey also wrote a series of books featuring private detective Pete Schofield and his wife, Jeanne. The frequent banter between Pete and Jeanne is reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles. Notable titles in the series include The Golden Hooligan (1961), a story involving a dead bullfighter; Go, Honeylou (1962), where Pete searches for a kidnapped 19 year-old sexpot; and the book which most reviewers call the best of the series, Only On Tuesdays (1964), which includes the death of a pin-up model, a mysterious dachshund found in Pete’s bedroom closet and a frenzied sailboat race to Catalina Island.

In 1947, Dewey wrote a book featuring the series character he is best known for, a Chicago-based PI generally known simply as “Mac.” In Mac’s first appearance, Draw the Curtain Close (1947), he describes himself as:

“… just a guy. I go around and get in jams and then try to figure a way out of them. I work hard. I don’t make very much money and most people insult me one way or another. I’m thirty-eight years old, a fairly good shot with small arms, slow-thinking but thorough, and very dirty in a clinch.”

Mac has been called one of the most believable and humane PI’s in crime fiction. He is reluctant to use either his gun or his fists, but will do so when the situation demands it, or in self-defense; he doesn’t merely solve his clients’ cases, but provides moral support and sympathy as well; and perhaps most notable of all, Mac feels, and is not afraid to show itópain, loss, sorrow, loneliness. Notable books include The Mean Streets (1955), where Mac goes undercover as a high school teacher to search for the leader of a violent teenage gang that’s terrorizing the community; Deadline (1966), where Mac has four days to save an innocent man from the electric chair and find the real killer; and the book which is widely regarded as Dewey’s best, A Sad Song Singing (1963), where Mac is hired by a teenaged singer to find her guitar playing boyfriend. Altogether, Dewey wrote seventeen novels (and one short story) featuring Mac.

 

NOVELS

SHORT STORIES

  • “You’ve Got Him Cold” (1965, Simon & Schuster)
  • “Never Send to Know” (January 1965, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
  • “The Prevalence of Monsters” (April 1965, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
  • “The Big Job” (December 1965, The Saint Mystery Magazine; Mac)
  • “Lucien’s Nose” (July 1966, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

COLLECTIONS & OMNIBUS EDITIONS

  • The Singer Batts Mystery Megapack: The Complete 4-Book Series (2015) Kindle it!

AS EDITOR

TELEVISION

  • BOB HOPE PRESENTS THE CHRYSLER THEATRE
    (1963-67, NBC)
    60-minute episodes
    One of the last major anthology shows to air on American television.
    • “Runaway” (January 10, 1964)
      Based on A Sad Song Singing by Thomas B. Dewey
      Teleplay by Leonard Kantor
      Starring Hugh O’Brien, John Alderman, Nancy Ames, Donna Anderson, Ellen Burstyn
      Dick Lochte comments “O’Brien starred as the detective who, as I recall, was not named Mac. It was a lousy adaptation of a novel that was not among Dewey’s best. But his best was pretty damn good.”
  • CANNON
    (1971-76, CBS)
    Starring William Conrad as Cannon

    • “Death’s a Double-Cross” (1971)
      Based on the novel Every Bet’s a Sure Thing by Thomas B. Dewey
Respectfully submitted by Brian Ritt, author of Paperback Confidential: Crime Writers of the Paperback, from which this biography was taken. Additional bibliographical information by Kevin Burton Smith. And thanks to Dick Lochte for the lead.

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