Monday, October 12, 2009

Carroll John Daly Deserves More Respect

Has anybody ever really read anything by Carroll John Daly, or do we just read other people's comments that he was inferior to Hammett and go with it?

If Daly were alive today, he might borrow Rodney Dangerfield's "I can't get no respect" line, and he'd be justified.

Daly was the first to publish what we know as a hard-boiled detective story, and was a huge hit with Black Mask Magazine readers with his character Race Williams, a shoot-first-ask-questions-never private eye.

Daly has been called everything from a poor writer (at the least) to an incompetent writer. Yes, Daly's dialog was awful; his characterizations clumsy or nonexistent; his writing choppy and sometimes incoherent. But when he was good, he was good, and very, very entertaining.

As some of you also know, Dash Hammett published his first story about a month or so after Daly's appeared, and the quality between the two is readily apparent. But I think most critics dislike Daly because he wasn't Hammett, and I think they're upset that Hammett didn't get to the mail box fast enough, and Daly has the "first" title. This kind of critical snobbery is uncalled for.

When Daly had all ten cylinders firing, he wrote well. He wrote a trilogy that's worth looking up, "The Tag Murders", "Tainted Power", and "The Third Murderer". All three are riveting and lead to slam-bang climaxes that will leave you gasping. His five stories in "The Adventures of Race Williams", put out by Mysterious Press back in the '80s, are wonderfully entertaining, and all the dots connect. Yes, the dialog is still weak and characterizations flat, but not always.

Daly deserves better than critics and readers have been giving him. Yes, he wasn't Hammett, but so what? He was his own writer with his own strengths and weaknesses--there's no crime in that. Besides, we already had one Hammett, do we need another?

Aren't there enough imitators as it is?


  1. I've read a lot of Daly's work and always enjoyed it. Give me a writer with a distinctive voice, even a somewhat flawed one, any day.

  2. Well said, Brian. Sign me up as a Follower.

  3. Thanks, Evan! Hope you enjoy the site.

  4. I started out with Snarl of the Beast and then got The Adventures of Race Williams. I'm looking forward to reading all of the Satan Hall I can find. Yes, Daly deserves more respect. His prose is terse and action packed and the stories hold up just fine. I love Dash's Continental Op, and other Black Mask author's hardboiled PIs but personally I think Daly started and stayed on top of it.