Created by Talmage Powell
Pseudonyms include Jack McCready & Anne Talmage
“The apartment was sodden with heat. I’ve been in Tampa a long time but I never got used to the heat.”
— from “Her Dagger Before Me”
Rough-and-ready ED RIVERS is a plug-ugly op for the Nationwide Detective Agency, the agent-in-charge of their Southeastern Office in pre-boomtown Tampa, Florida, with a face only a mother–or a certain type of woman–could love.
He’s been described variously as deeply tanned, deeply creased, brutish, thuggish and–I love this–“bearish.”
We’re told “Women either get a charge from (it) or want to run…Men fear it or trust it to the hilt.” Just to be on the safe side, Ed carries a knife (in a sheath at the nape of his neck) and a .38, and he’ll use them if he has to. Clearly, he’s not a guy to mess around with.
Years ago, he was a cop in New Jersey but his girl at the time dumped him for a hood, and then the two of them subsequently lost a race with a freight train. Heartbroken, Ed quit the force and devoted his energies for the next several years to some serious drinking and drifting, taking various odd jobs when it seemed he was in danger of running out of money or–even worse–sobering up. He landed in Tampa, and scored a gig as a stevedore, before Nationwide decided to take a chance on him. He’s been their man in Florida ever since.
It’s pretty typical, action-packed private eye stuff for the era (Rivers gets knocked unconscious, he sleeps with babes, bad guys try to kill him, etc.), but Powell’s writing and plotting put him a notch above most of his competitors, and the author wasn’t afraid to dig a little deeper, shucking the usual litany of mobsters and molls, taking on off-the-menu items such as child molestation, dwarf clients, shell-shocked alcoholic vets and serial killers (a genuine novelty at the time). Nor was Powell afraid to allow his hero to display a certain amount of compassion and sensitivity at a time when the knuckles of many of his fellow paperback eyes barely cleared the ground. Nor was he shy about really using the Florida setting: his characters sweat–a lot–and non-native Rivers is a sucker for cold beer (and lots of it) and Cuban food.
Ed’s first appearance was in a short story in the July 1949 issue of Black Mask, albeit under another name. In that original story he was known as LLOYD CARTER. Powell’s five subsequent Ed Rivers books, all paperback originals published by Pocket Books, are all well-written, emotionally-satisfying reads, solid genre entries ithat don’t cheat the reader. You could do a lot worse than dig these puppies up; a definite cut above most of the P.I. novels of the time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Powell was one of the latter day pulpster superstars, the author, he claimed, of over five hundred stories. He wrote his first novel, The Smasher, in 1959, the first of over a dozen under his own name, as well as a slew more under a variety of pseudonyms, including Robert Hart Davis, Milton T. Lamb, Jack McCready, Dave Sands, Milton Land, Robert Henry and Anne Talmage. His short fiction, mostly crime and westerns, appeared in pulps such as Dime Detective, Dime Mystery, Detective Tales, Ten Detective Aces, Doc Savage, Dime Western, The Shadow, G-Men Detective, Ranch Romances, Fifteen Western Tales, Hollywood Detective, Western Story, Crack Detective, Black Mask and later, in the crime digests, such as Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Mike Shayne, Manhunt and Suspense. He ghost-wrote four Ellery Queen novels in the 1960’s, a couple of Mission Impossible novelizations, and also worked as a staff writer for television’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His one Western novel, The Cage, a powerfully offbeat account of a manhunt across a southwestern desert, was filmed in France.
For a while Powell was part of a Florida writing circle that included such other notable pulpsters as Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Gil Brewer, Jonathan Craig, and Robert Turner. He passed away in 2000 in a hospital in Asheville, NC, an Appalachian town where he had lived for some time.
- “My face usually gets a reaction. I’ve seen it fire the eyes of women with feelings ranging from acute distaste to hot hunger.”
— The Girl’s Number Doesn’t Answer
- “The well-realized, unusual setting, and Powell’s depiction of Rivers as a thinking and caring P.I., for all his skill with the gun and knife he carries, sets this series apart.”
— William L. DeAndrea in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa
- “… one of the more likable private eyes in the detective fiction field and deserves a place with Kyle’s Ben Gates, Dewey’s Mac, Nolan’s Bart Challis, Reeves’ Cellini Smith, Norbert Davis’ Max Latin, and other writers from the pulps like Butler and Constiner.”
— Walker Martin (Mystery*File)
- “Her Dagger Before Me” (July 1949, Black Mask; also 1999, First Cases 3)
- “With a Madman Behind Me” (April 1961, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
- “Start Screaming, Murderer” (August 1962, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine)
- The Killer Is Mine (1959) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Girl’s Number Doesn’t Answer (1960) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- With a Madman Behind Me (1961) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Start Screaming Murder (1962) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Corpus Delectable (1964) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- November 29, 2021
THE BOTTOM LINE: This big, beer-swigging, knife-carrying PI, with a face only a mother could love, sweats it out in Tampa, in five pitch-perfect slabs of 60s-era pulp.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Geoff Bradley for pointing these out to me.