You say it’s your birthday?

100 Years of the Hard-Boiled American Private Eye (1922-2022) EDITOR’S NOTE: The  following article, in slightly different form, first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Mystery Scene (#173), but it makes for a nifty intro to the upcoming panel at Bouchercon 2023 that I’ll be moderating, entitled “You Can’t Kill Me—Why the P.I. Won’t Die." Sadly, … Continue reading You say it’s your birthday?

Ralph Henderson

Created by Charles Felix Pseudonym of Charles Warren Adams (1833-1903) "Is that chain one of purely accidental coincidences, or does it point with terrible certainty to a series of crimes, in their nature and execution too horrible to contemplate?" -- Victorian P.I. Ralph Henderson gets all noir on us Forget The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie … Continue reading Ralph Henderson

Dangerous Dames

A Timeline of Some of the Significant Female Eyes, and the Date of their First Appearance "If it's that delicate,... maybe you need a lady detective." -- Marlowe in The Little Sister (1949) No business for a lady, indeed... Despite various bimbo eyes whose pulchritudinous assets often far outweighed their mental equipment (to paraphrase one … Continue reading Dangerous Dames

Burton Combs (real name unknown)

Created by Carroll John Daly (1889-1958) "I ain't a crook; just a gentleman adventurer and make my living working against the law breakers. Not that work I with the police -- no, not me. I'm no knight errant either." Carroll John Daly's short story, "The False Burton Combs," which appeared in the December 1922 issue … Continue reading Burton Combs (real name unknown)

Three Gun Terry (aka “Three Gun Mack” and “Terry Mack”)

Created by Carroll John Daly Pseudonyms include John D. Carroll (1889--1958) "You don't take me for no Sir Lancelot, do you?" -- Terry explains he ain't that kinda guy. Here's the real deal! Carroll John Daly's THREE GUN TERRY is the very first hard-boiled private eye. Probably... Because, of course, with any such statement, there … Continue reading Three Gun Terry (aka “Three Gun Mack” and “Terry Mack”)


Created by Peter Collinson Pseudonym of Dashiell Hammett 1894-1961) Hammett scholar Vince Emery, citing William F. Nolan, suggested that Dashiell Hammett's "The Road Home," featuring professional manhunter HAGEDORN and originally published in the December 1922 issue of The Black Mask is in fact "the first hard-boiled detective story," predating Carroll John Daly's "Three Gun Terry," which is … Continue reading Hagedorn

Who’s on First?

The First Hard-Boiled Private Eye Story "Firsts" are the sort of game literary historians, scholars and bookgeeks love to play, giving them a chance to strut their stuff, loudly and proudly offering up the most blurry of distinctions and the most wishy-washy of definitions, turning hair-splittery into a fine art -- and occasionally a contact … Continue reading Who’s on First?

Early Eyes

Historical and Literary Influences on the Genre Trying to pinpoint the first fictional "private detective" (never mind the first "private eye") is pretty much like nailing two pieces of jello together... during an earthquake. Nonetheless, all the following usual (and maybe occasionally unusual) suspects contributed to the development of the private eye as we now understand … Continue reading Early Eyes

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (Private Detectives & Other Miscreants)

We can go around and around all night about who the first fictional "private detective" was, but most of us, I think, will agree that Sherlock Holmes was the first significant fictional detective -- his 1887 debut was a literary shot heard 'round the world that still reverberates over a hundred and thirty years later. … Continue reading The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (Private Detectives & Other Miscreants)

Craig Kennedy

Created by Arthur B. Reeve Pseudonyms include David Carver (1880-1936) "There is a distinct place for science in the detection of crime... I am going to apply science to the detection of crime, the same sort of methods by which you chase out the presence of a chemical, or run an unknown germ to earth." … Continue reading Craig Kennedy