The Great American Detective:
15 Stories Starring America’s Celebrated Private Eyes
Edited by William Kittridedge & Steven M. Krauzer
Possibly the very first anthology of crime fiction I ever bought, probably at the downtown Coles or Classics on my long way home from Dawson in the East End to the South Shore. Reading these stories–and I’m pretty sure I read every single one of them, some of them several times over the years–helped crystalized what I liked and didn’t like in crime fiction.
It was private eyes and their “Oh yeah?” attitude. Hell, that cover alone was probably enough to make me pick up the book and give it a look.
And what a treasure trove of stories! This was the real deal; a pivotal, life-changing book. It opened my eyes to a genre I hadn’t even realized I was falling in love with.
A 1894 Nick Carter story, “A Clever Little Woman,” kicks off the collection, and it thunders all the way through to a story written expressly for it, featuring Don Pendelton’s Mack Bolan, aka “The Executioner.” It was an inspired choice–the Carter story’s obviously in there to give the book a historical perspective, a no-brainer, but the inclusion of Pendleton’s story to tie it all up (the only short story featuring Bolan he ever wrote) shows just how wide-ranging their scope, and how serious and ambitious Kittridedge and Krauzer were in tracing the development of the fictional American Detective.
Mind you, this volume was published in 1978, so don’t expect any of the writers–or detectives–to be anything but white males. The sole exception was Mignon G. Eberhart’s “Introducing Susan Dare,” featuring a young mystery author who thinks fictional detectives shouldn’t have all the fun, and sets out to become a professional detective herself.
The only other gumshoes to crash the Boys’ Club were amateurs: Stuart Palmer’s busy body Hildegarde Withers and Cornell Woolrich’s stripper detective Jerry Wheeler–both written by men. Make of that what you will, but remember–this book was published in 1978, and McCone, Anna Lee, Kinsey, V.I and all the others were still around the corner.
Not that all the stories featured private eyes, but there were mostly shamus-adjacent. The costumed crimefighter, The Shadow appears here, as does amateur sleuth Ellery Queen and lawyer sleuth Perry Mason, but the other seven stories all feature private eyes.
And not just some private eyes. In any ranking of the great American private eyes of the era covered, the seven included here would make the grade. I mean, really.
Race Williams in his very first appearance? Sam Spade? Philip Marlowe? Dan Turner? Nero Wolfe? Mike Shayne? Lew Archer?
How could any round-up of the greats not include these guys?
I LOVED this book. It was a world-tilting, eye-opening experience.
But that’s not all, kids!
The book boasted a lengthy “Introduction” by the editors, and each story included its own brief preface, to put it all in perspective. Then, to wrap it all up, there’s a generous list of “Some Suggestions for Further Reading” tacked onto the final pages–much of which I’m sure I pilfered in those pre-internet days for what would eventually become this site.
Not bad for $2.25, eh? ($3.50 in Canada, but still a great deal).
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
William Kittredge (1932-2020) was born in 1932 in Portland, Oregon, and grew up on a ranch in Southeastern Oregon’s Warner Valley in Lake County. He earned his undergraduate degree in agriculture from Oregon State University, and at 35, retired from ranching to entoll at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa, where he completed his M.F.A. The Great American Detective appeared in 1978, but it was bhis 1987 collection of essays, Owning It All, about the modern West, that really made his name. He followed that with Hole in the Sky: A Memoir. He was also co-producer of the movie, A River Runs Through It. He received numerous awards including a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford and Writing Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. His essays and articles, mostly about the West, appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, Esquire, Time, Newsweek, and newspapers The Washington Post and The New York Times. He taught creative writing at the University of Montana in Missoula for 30 years and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Montana Book Festival in September 2017.
Steven M. Krauzer (1948-2009) was an American author and screenwriter whose credits include Cocaine Wars (1985) and Sweet Revenge (1987). He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1948, and began his writing career in high school as a general reporter and sportswriter for the Manchester Union Leader. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Yale University in 1970, Krauzer explored the depiction of good and evil in detective fiction in his 1974 Master’s thesis in the English Literature program at the University of New Hampshire. He moved to Missoula, Montana in the mid-seventies, where he met University of Montana creative writing professor William Kittredge. Together they collaborated on The Great American Detective, and under the joint pen name of Owen Roundtree, they wrote the Cord series of westerns. Krauzer’s pseudonyms included Jokemeisters, Johnny Dee, the house-name Terry Nelsen Bonner for the Making of Australia series, J. W. Baron for the Blaze series, and Adam Lassiter for the Dennison’s War series. And as “Don Pendleton” he was responsible for several early Executioner novels, including Double Crossfire (1981) and Terrorist Summit (1982).
- “Introduction” by William Kittredge and Steven M. Krauzer
- NICK CARTER in “A Clever Little Woman” by “The Author of Nick Carter”
- RACE WILLIAMS in “Knights of the Open Palm” by Carroll John Day
- SAM SPADE in “Too Many Have Lived” by Dashiell Hammett
- THE SHADOW in “Death Shows the Way,” a radio script by Tom McKnight and Jerry Devine
- PHILIP MARLOWE in “Red Wind” by Raymond Chandler
- ELLERY QUEEN in “The Adventure of the Mad Tea-Party” by Ellery Queen
- DAN TURNER in “The Lake of the Left-Hand Moon” by Robert Leslie Bellem
- SUSAN DARE in “Introducing Susan Dare” by Mignon G. Eberhart
- JERRY WHEELER in “Angel Face” by Cornell Woolrich
- HILDEGARDE WITHERS in “The Riddle of the Twelve Amethysts” by Stuart Palmer
- NERO WOLFE in “Bullet For One” by Rex Stout
- PERRY MASON in “The Case of the Irate Witness” by Erle Stanley Gardner
- MICHAEL SHAYNE in “The Reluctant Client” by Brett Halliday
- LEW ARCHER in “Midnight Blue” by Ross MacDonald
- MACK BOLAN, THE EXECUTIONER in “Willing To Kill” by Don Pendleton
- “Some Suggestions for Further Reading” by William Kittredge and Steven M. Krauzer.
- The Great American Detective (1978,Mentor Book’s New American Library) | Buy this book
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And a big tip of the fedora to Jim.
2 thoughts on “My Bookshelf: “The Great American Detective””
It’s a great read and remains on my night stand for a bed time story
I wish that this & Great British Detectives would both be reprinted.