(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)
So… I agreed to write an introduction for The Complete Cases of Mike & Trixie: Volume One, from Steeger Books. That intro is below. It is not, however, in that particular book, as I missed the deadline in epic Douglas Adams fashion. It was entirely my fault, and I’m fortunate that Steeger didn’t drop me entirely. Since this essay has just been sitting around taking up space on my hard drive, I decided to run it in A (Black) Gat. It’s pretty self-explanatory and covers the first four stories in the series. I like T.T. Flynn, and maybe I could write an intro for Volume Two…
Most pulpsters earned less than a penny a word, with the legendary Black Mask offering a princely three cents! So it comes as no surprise that not only did writers produce at great volume, – some, like Erle Stanley Gardner, could crank out over one million words a year – but they also wrote for multiple magazines in different genres. Robert E. Howard, best known for Conan (Hollywood added ‘the Barbarian’), wrote boxing yarns, Westerns, spicy adventures, horror, historicals, and even mysteries; submitting stories to almost anyone who would pay, it seems. Like his contemporaries, he was just trying to make a living as a pulpster.
Thomas Theodore (better known as T. T.) Flynn Jr. began selling Westerns to the pulps early in 1932. Dime Western began its run, covering more than 250 issues over thirty years, with a T. T. Flynn story in the very first issue that December. Less than a year later, Star Western launched, with Flynn’s “Hell’s Half Acre” featured on the cover. He continued writing popular Westerns into the fifties and he survived the demise of the pulps by transitioning to Western paperbacks. His lone story to make The Saturday Evening Post became the popular James Stewart movie, The Man from Laramie.
But Flynn was an accomplished mystery and hardboiled pulpster. The venerable Flynn’s (no relation), which ran for over six hundred issues under multiple names, was less than a year old when his first story appeared in August of 1926. Three consecutive issues in December of that year included Flynn’s stories.
Though he never appeared in Black Mask, Flynn was in the very first issue of Dime Detective, in November of 1931. In fact, Flynn’s stories graced six of the first nine editions. Flynn was Dime Detective’s most prolific contributor, with 80 stories (Frederick C. Davis came in second, at 73). And only Frederick Nebel’s Cardigan appeared more times than Mr. Maddox, the horse-racing bookie who sure seemed to catch a lot of bad guys. Maddox is Flynn’s best-known character (and is collected in a two-volume edition from Steeger Books), but the pulpster had already hit with a popular series in Detective Fiction Weekly.
Detective Fiction Weekly was the fourth name in two years and two weeks for the aforementioned Flynn’s, That was easily the longest-running of its titles, but there would be more. For ten cents, the April 15, 1933 issue got you a Gordon Manning and The Griffin adventure by J. Allen Dunn, and one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Patent Leather Kid stories. And you could also read “The Deadly Orchid,” featuring a rather typical hardboiled private eye named Mike Harris. Constantly aggrieved by his bosses at the Blaine Agency, he talked tough, though was a little less wise-cracking than others of the time.
And in sixteen cases (all but one in some named version of Detective Fiction Weekly) he was paired up with another agency operative, Trixie Meehan. Female detectives were not common in the pulps. And in 1933, T. A. Tinsley’s Carrie Cashin, and D. B. McCandless’ Sarah Watson, weren’t yet figments of their authors’ imaginations. Trixie stood out, like Pat Seaward in Nebel’s Cardigan adventures.
The stories are labeled ‘Mike and Trixie,’ and Mike Harris is the central character. Trixie Meehan, more than capable on her own, is assigned to help him out. In the first tale, Deadly Orchid,” she doesn’t let Mike push her around (I don’t mean physically), arguing with him and running up the agency’s expense account over his objections. However, for most of the case, she doesn’t do anything except be present as his (fake) wife, while he works on the femme fatale they’re after. She does step up in the clutch, but she doesn’t do much shining throughout.
That’s not to denigrate the story, but it’s Mike’s case. He’s after a black widow, and the pair go undercover in Palm Beach, flush with Texas oil money. Mike keeps Trixie in the dark as he baits a trap, leading to the finale. Though it’s Trixie who makes the trap a success.
“Falling Death” is over three times as long as the first story, giving a lot more room for action – as well as interaction between the two. From 1933, it’s a tale of aviation industrial espionage, which was a high-suspense topic in that era. Mike takes the train from New York City to Chicago, >with a reference to the World’s Fair, which was taking place in the Windy City. The factory and headquarters are “far out on the north shore, beyond Evanston.” That was the countryside back then!
Murder’s Masquerade” uses a costume ball as the setting for a jewel robbery. Mike and Trixie are put on preventative duty. They don’t prevent much, as a slew of crimes are committed in the course of a Hammet-esque robbery. Trixie mostly works off camera in this one, and does a good job.>
“”>Death Takes Passage” has a Bogart-type feel to it, as the pair go undercover on a rich man’s yacht and end up sailing to a deserted tropical isle. Mike finds himself in the middle of a double cross. Or maybe it’s a double, double cross? This one packs quite a finale.
There’s always some amusement when Mike and Trixie first meet up on a case. Sometimes it’s in the office, and other times it’s out in the field. On their taxi pulling up at their Palm Beach resort hotel in “Deadly Orchids,” Trixie kicks Mike in the ankle:
“Out, ape” she hissed under her breath. “Husbands always help the little woman tenderly.”
“There you go!” I snarled. “Trying to start something right off the bat!”
“Yes darling,” cooed Trixie, for the driver’s benefit as I helped her out on the sidewalk.
As they’re checking in, Mike notes, ‘I couldn’t shove her, there in the lobby, so I took it out on the clerk.’
His description to the reader after unexpectedly encountering her in the client’s office in case two:>
Yes, it was little Trixie Meehan, who had her knife out and her tongue sharpened for me from London to Shanghai…When we parted in Florida…it had been with the mutual wish that one or the other would get run over by a coal truck before our paths crossed again.’
In “Death Takes Passage,” Mike is less than thrilled to discover that they’ll both be part of the same crew. He snarls at Trixie, who replies, “Don’t stand there gawking like a baboon, Mike Harris! Pick up a couple of these bags and look intelligent, if it’s in you.”
They’re an odd pair. Mike is never happy to see her while he’s on a job. And while she usually contributes in some fashion, he consistently tries to – often successfully – limit her involvement, if not shut her out completely. She is feisty, and doesn’t let him walk all over her, but he still manages to push her into the background, for the most part.
Any kind of detente achieved at the end of a case is always short-lived. And they’re never happy to see each other again. T. T. Flynn’s pair verbally sparred with each other while they fought the bad guys; all to protect the reputation of the Blaine Agency.
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Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE DEFINITIVE guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.