Crime & Detective Fiction in The Saturday Evening Post

Some Significant Contributors & Other Writers of Interest

The long-running Saturday Evening Post, once the most popular magazine in the United States, got its start way back in 1821, offering something for everyone: news, history, politics, humour, science, medicine, music, cartoons, recipes and fiction. And yes, that includes crime fiction, going back at least as far as 1843, when “The Black Cat” by some dude named Edgar Allan Poe was published.

As Bob Sassone, in a great piece in a 2022 issue of Noir City put it, The Post holds a unique place in the history of America, because it is the history of America.” He goes on to add that “One specific type of American-style entertainment the magazine helped popularize was noir. The Post was famous for its short fiction and regularly published crime stories that became classic noir films. Randomly surfing through the archives, it’s always fun to come across those stories. There are several films that began—sometimes serialized over several issues, sometimes complete in one issue—as stories in the pages of the Post.”

Of course, not all crime fiction that appeared in The Post was noir, or even hard-boiled, but followers of this site will certainly recognize most the names below:

  • Raymond Chandler
    “I’ll Be Waiting,” which marked the first—and only—appearance of pudgy house dick Tony Reseck, appeared in the October 14, 1939 issue. It was also Chandler’s first—and only—sale to the “slicks.”
  • Agatha Christie
    In the thirties and forties, Christie was something of a regular in The Post, with American readers being introduced to mustachioed gadfly and private inquiry agent Hercule Poirot in the September 30, 1933 issue in “Murder in the Calais Coach,” the first of six weekly installments. Poirot subsequently appeared five more times in the thirties. They also published six other mysteries, including “Endless Night,” which Christie included among her five favorite books.
  • Erle Stanley Gardner
    Already popular, Gardner gradually sanded off some of cash cow Perry Mason’s decidedly rough edges, hoping to make him more palatable to the editors of The Saturday Evening Post, a market the ever-ambitious author was eager to crack. From the early fifties on, many of the Mason novels were serialized or excerpted in The Post prior to book publication, a fact that no doubt contributed to the subsequent TV series success, although successful movies, radio shows, comic strips and a hit TV show certainly played their part as well. And through it all, Gardner kept sanding down the edges.
  • Octavus Roy Cohen
    One of the precursors to the hard-boiled private eye, for better or worse, was the racially problematical Florian Slappey who appeared in numerous short stories in The Saturday Evening Post, beginning a long, long run with the January 4, 1919 appearance of “Pool and Ginuwine,” and winding up with a final appearance in 1944. Nobody will ever accuse these stories of being “woke.”
  • Rex Stout
    At least half a dozen of Stout’s later Nero Wolfe novellas appeared in the magazine, including “Frame-Up for Murder,” which was serialized in the June 21, June 28 and July 5 issues. It was an expanded version of the 1948 short story “Murder Is No Joke.”
  • MacKinlay Kantor
    His short story “Gun Crazy,” the basis for the classic film noir, appeared in the February 3, 1940 issue, although the ending is much different than the film version.
  • Hannah Lees & Lawrence P. Bachmann
    Their novel Death in the Doll’s House, which served as the basis for the 1950 noir Shadow on the Wall, appeared in serialized form starting in the January 16, 1943 issue.
  • Charlotte Armstrong
    The serialized The Unsuspected kicked off in the August 11, 1945 issue and ran for eight installments, before being published as a novel in 1946 and a  1947 film under the same title.
  • David Goodis
    The noir master’s classic novel Dark Passage (which was filmed the next year with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) was serialized beginning in the July 20, 1946 issue, the first of eight parts.
  • Roy Huggins
    Huggins’ Chandleresque eye, Stuart Bailey, appeared in three short stories in 1946, the same year Bailey showed up in the novel The Double Take. The book was the basis for the 1948 film I Love Trouble and Bailey later became the lead dick in the mega-popular TV series 77 Sunset Strip. Another novel by Huggins, Too Late for Tears, was serialized, the first of six parts appearing in the April 19, 1947 issue. Ity too became the basis for a film.
  • Donald Hamilton
    Years before creating the tough guy spy Matt Helm, Hamilton’s postwar espionage novel The Steel Mirror was serialized in the Post in eight parts. But I digress…
  • John D. MacDonald
    Nothing particularly criminious, but MacDonald did place five stories in the Post, starting with “Kitten On A Trampoline” in the April 8, 1961 issue.

ALSO OF NOTE

  • James M. Cain
  • Leslie Ford
  • Charles Portis 
    “True Grit” was serialized.
  • Edgar Allan Poe
    “The Black Cat” was published in 1843, back when it was called The United States Saturday Post.

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • “The Saturday Evening Post: Hotbed of Noir!”
    (May 2022, Noir City #34)
    Bob Saasone’s ode to the darker side of the Post’s crime fiction, from Noir City, the official publication of the Film Noir Foundation.
  • My Scrapbook: “I’ll Be Waiting”
    Chandler Cracks The Saturday Evening Post. Illustrations by Hy Rubin.
  • The Noir Look in the Pages of the Post
    Not only did the Post publish a lot of hard-boiled and noir fiction—they also found the illustrators to do it right. This mini-gallery includes work by John Henry Crosman, William A. Smith, Austin Briggs, and Perry Peterson.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Top photo is from William A. Smith’s illustration for “Nightmare in Manhattan” by Thomas Walsh in the August 6, 1949, issue).

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