Carroll John Daly

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Carroll John Daly
Born(1889-09-14)September 14, 1889
Yonkers, New York
DiedJanuary 16, 1958(1958-01-16) (aged 68)
Los Angeles, California
GenreHardboiled crime fiction
Notable worksThe Race Williams stories

Carroll John Daly (1889–1958) was a writer of crime fiction.[1] One of the earliest writers of hard-boiled fiction, he is best known for his detective character Race Williams, who appeared in a number of stories for Black Mask magazine in the 1920s.

Early life[edit]

Daly was born on September 14, 1889, in Yonkers, New York. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Before turning to writing, he was an usher, projectionist, and an actor, and opened the first movie theater in Atlantic City, New Jersey.[2] Unlike Hammett, who had actually worked as a Pinkerton detective before writing about similar if exaggerated fictional detectives, Daly was anything but a hardboiled antihero in real life. He was 33 years old before his first crime story was published, and up to that point lived quietly in the suburb of White Plains, New York. As Lee Server, author of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers, put it: "He was afraid of cold weather and dentists. His violent, tough-talking detective stories were a fantasy outlet for the mild-mannered man."[3]


Cover of June 1923 issue of Black Mask featuring Daly's anti-Ku Klux Klan story "Knights of the Open Palm".

Daly is generally considered vital to the history of the hardboiled crime genre, less for the quality of his writing than the fact that he was the first writer to combine all the elements of the style and form that we now recognize as the dark, violent hardboiled story. Enormously popular in his time, Carroll's no-nonsense tough-guy detective stories have gone on to influence not only contemporaries such as Dashiell Hammett, but Mickey Spillane and dozens of other writers. Daly's popularity was high enough that his name appearing on the cover of a magazine was enough to boost sales by 15 percent. A Black Mask readers' poll once showed Daly as the most popular writer in the magazine, ahead of Hammett and Erle Stanley Gardner. Today, his writing is often considered "something between quaint and camp", in the words of genre historian William L. DeAndrea.[4][2][5] Lee Server has noted, however, that comparing Daly with his better-remembered successors may be unfair, and that Daly's most crucial influence on the genre was his rejection of what was mainstream detective fiction during Daly's own time—instead of the mannered, aristocratic sleuths of drawing-room mysteries, Daly was influenced by the avenging vigilantes of Westerns and stories of the American frontier, such as Wyatt Earp and James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo, who were more likely to solve a case with their fists than a magnifying glass.[3]

Daly has been credited with creating the first hard-boiled story, "The False Burton Combs", published in Black Mask magazine in December 1922, followed closely by "It's All in the Game" (Black Mask, April 1923) and the PI story "Three Gun Terry" (Black Mask, May 1923).[6][7] DeAndrea has noted that Daly's stories were less concerned with updating Victorian-era drawing room mysteries than Wild West stories, and that his tough, urban heroes were most similar to the gunslingers of Westerns than detectives or sleuths of earlier works, calling them "two-gun kids riding an urban range, delivering death and justice via the same hot lead route as the gunfighters of dime novels".[4] By virtue of being first (along with Hammett), Daly set the rules of the hardboiled genre that would be adhered to, or broken, by future writers.[8]

Race Williams[edit]

Daly's private detective Race Williams was his most successful creation, appearing in about 70 stories and eight novels. Lee Server has called the character "the single most popular private eye in the history of the pulps."[3] Although Black Mask editor Joseph Shaw did not like the Race Williams stories, they were so popular with readers that he asked Daly to continue writing them.[1] Thus, Race Williams became the first hardboiled detective to have his own series.[2]

He first appeared in "Knights of the Open Palm", an anti-Ku Klux Klan story.[1] "Knights of the Open Palm" was published June 1, 1923, in Black Mask, predating the October 1923 debut of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op character.[9][10][11]

Daly's Williams was a rough-and-ready character with a sharp tongue and established the model for many later acerbic private eyes. Race Williams' hards-as-nails, unsubtle characterization was in many ways a model for the taciturn, violent and hypermasculine hardboiled private eye. DeAndrea somewhat unfairly called Williams "a tough, cocky, nearly mindless investigator who shot his way through his cases." Although Williams showed greater sentimentality than, say, the cold-hearted Continental Op of Hammett, his personality otherwise exemplified the hardboiled P.I., from his generally antagonistic relationship with the police, to his (largely) aloof, even Victorian attitude toward women, to his disinterest in financial reward as much as the thrill of the hunt.[8] Spillane would later embrace this template to great effect in his Mike Hammer stories (with a more modern attitude towards women), while other writers such as Hammett and Raymond Chandler would use it with greater subtlety and shading, to greater literary effect.[4]

Other work[edit]

Daly also created other pulp detectives, including Detective Satan Hall, "Three-Gun Terry" Mack, and Vee Brown.[4] In addition to Black Mask, Daly also wrote for other pulp magazines, including Detective Fiction Weekly and Dime Detective.[12] After leaving Black Mask, Daly found other magazines did not want serials. Daly’s solution was the ‘story arc’, stand alone stories that did not depend on each other, yet tied together to make a larger theme/plot.

His other characters included Clay Holt, a detective almost identical to Race Williams, created by Daly when he left Black Mask; all of the Holt stories were published by Dime Detective instead. One of the Holt stories, "Ticket to a Crime", has the distinction of being Daly's only story to be adapted into a Hollywood movie, the 1934 Lewis D. Collins film Ticket to a Crime.[13]

In the 1940s, Daly's work fell out of fashion with crime fiction readers, and he moved to California to work on comics and film scripts.[3][4][14] When Mickey Spillane became a bestselling novelist with Mike Hammer, a character similar to Daly's detectives, Daly remarked "I'm broke, and this guy gets rich writing about my detective."[1] However, Spillane wrote Daly a fan letter saying that Race Williams was the model for his own Mike Hammer. The story goes (at least as far as Spillane told it) that when Daly’s agent at the time saw the letter, she instituted a plagiarism suit. Whereupon Daly canned her because he hadn’t gotten a fan letter in years and he sure as hell wasn’t about to sue anybody who had actually taken the time to write one.[3]

Daly's papers are archived in the Department of Special Collections at the UCLA Library.[15]


Daly died on January 16, 1958, in Los Angeles, California.


  • The White Circle (1926)
  • The Snarl of the Beast (1927)
  • Man in the Shadows (1928)
  • The Hidden Hand (1929)
  • The Tag Murders (1930)
  • Tainted Power (1931)
  • The Third Murderer (1931)
  • The Amateur Murderer (1933)
  • Murder Won’t Wait (1933)
  • Murder from the East (1935)
  • Mr. Strang (1936)
  • The Mystery of the Smoking Gun (1936)
  • The Emperor of Evil (1937)
  • Better Corpses (1940)
  • Murder at Our House (1950)
  • Ready to Burn (1951)

Precursor to Race Williams[edit]

  • "The False Burton Combs", Black Mask, December 1922, in Herbert Ruhm (1977), ed., The Hard-boiled Detective: Stories from "Black Mask" Magazine (1920-1951), New York: Vintage.

Race Williams Stories[edit]

All published in Black Mask magazine, thru ‘The Eyes Have It’ (Nov 1934) The Altus Press aka Steeger Books has re-published all the Black Mask stories in a six-volume set. There is a plan to publish the complete stories; info at

Knights of the Open Palm (June 1923) Race vs. The KKK. Appeared in special KKK number of Black Mask Vol.6 No. 5 June 1, 1923

Three Thousand to the Good (July 1923)

The Red Peril (June 1924)

Them That Lives by Their Guns (August 1924)

Devil Cat (November 1924)

The Face Behind the Mask (February 1925)

Conceited, Maybe (April 1925)

Say It with Lead (June 1925)

I'll Tell the World (August 1925)

Alias, Buttercup (October 1925)

  • novel: Under Cover [parts:1-2] (December 1925 - January 1926)

South Sea Steel (May 1926)

The False Clara Burkhart (July 1926)

The Super Devil (August 1926)

Half-Breed (November 1926)

Blind Alleys (April 1927)

  • novel: The Snarl of the Beast [parts: 1-4] (June, July, August, September 1927) [*book - 1927]

The Egyptian Lure (March 1928)

  • novel: The Hidden Hand [Creeping Death] (June 1928); The Hidden Hand - Wanted For Murder (July 1928); The Hidden Hand - Rough Stuff (August 1928); The Hidden Hand - The Last Chance (September 1928); The Hidden Hand - The Last Shot (October 1928). [*book - 1929]
  • novel: Tags of Death (March 1929); A Pretty Bit of Shooting (April 1929); Get Race Williams (May 1929); Race Williams Never Bluffs (June 1929) [aka: The Tag Murders *book - 1930] Race Williams (& Flame)
  • novel: The Silver Eagle (October- November 1929); [*? title of 2nd part: "The Death Trap" (November 1929). Serial dropped after Part 2] Race Williams (& Flame)
  • novel: Tainted Power (June 1930); Framed (July 1930); The Final Shot (August 1930) [aka: Tainted Power *book - 1931] Race Williams (& Flame)

Shooting Out of Turn (October 1930)

Murder by Mail (March 1931)

  • novel: The Flame and Race Williams [parts:1-3] (June, July, August 1931) [aka: The Third Murderer *book - 1931] Race Williams (& Flame)

Death for Two (September 1931)

  • novel: The Amateur Murderer [parts:1-4] (April, May, June, July 1932)

[*book - 1933]

Merger with Death (December 1932)

The Death Drop (May 1933)

If Death Is Respectable (July 1933)

Murder in the Open (October 1933)

  • novel: Six Have Died (May 1934); Flaming Death (June 1934); Murder Book (August 1934) [aka: Murder from the East *book - 1935] Race Williams (& Flame)

The Eyes Have It (November 1934) (last Black Mask story)

The next five appeared in Dime Detective magazine.

Some Die Hard (September 1935)

Dead Hands Reaching (November 1935)(start of the “Morse” story arc)

Corpse & Co. (February 1936)

Just Another Stiff (April 1936)(end of the “Morse” story arc)

City of Blood (October 1936)

The five stories above were collected in ‘The Adventures of Race Williams’

The Morgue's Our Home (December 1936) Dime Detective

Monogram in Lead (February 1937) Dime Detective Available from

Dead Men Don't Kill (August 1937) Dime Detective

Anyone's Corpse! (October 1937) Dime Detective Available from

The $1,000,000 Corpse (December 1937) Race Williams-?* (+ see [different-?*]: March 1950) Dime Detective

The Book of the Dead (January 1938) Dime Detective

A Corpse on the House (March 1938) Dime Detective

A Corpse for a Corpse (July 1938) Dime Detective Available from

The Men in Black (October 1938) Dime Detective Available from

The Quick and the Dead (December 1938) Dime Detective

Hell with the Lid Lifted (March 1939) Race Williams (& Flame) Dime Detective Available from

A Corpse in the Hand (June 1939) Dime Detective Available from

Gangman's Gallows (August 1939) Dime Detective

The White-Headed Corpse (November 1939) Dime Detective Available from

Cash for a Killer (February 1940) Detective Tales Race Williams-?*

Victim for Vengeance (September 1940) Clues (Street & Smith’s) Available at

  • novel: Better Corpses (1940) Race Williams (& Flame) UK only. The three stories of the “Morse” story arc:‘Dead Hands Reaching’, ‘Corpse & Co.’, and ‘Just Another Stiff’ from 1935-36. Available from

Too Dead to Pay (March 1941) Clues (Street & Smith) Available at

Body, Body – Who's Got the Body? (October 1944) Detective Story Magazine (Street & Smith) Race Williams-?* Available at

A Corpse Loses Its Head (March 1945) Race Williams-?* Detective Story Magazine (Street & Smith)

Unremembered Murder (March 1947) Detective Story Magazine (Street & Smith) May have been later re-titled ‘Not My Corpse’

This Corpse on Me (June 1947) Thrilling Detective Included in ‘Race Williams’ Double Date’ story collection

I'll Feel Better When You're Dead (December 1947) Thrilling Detective Included in ‘Race Williams’ Double Date’ story collection

Not My Corpse (June 1948) Thrilling Detective - UK edition May have been earlier titled ‘Unremembered Murder’ Available in ‘The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories’

Race Williams' Double Date (August 1948) Dime Detective Included in ‘Race Williams’ Double Date’ story collection

The Wrong Corpse (February 1949) Thrilling Detective Available from

Half a Corpse (May 1949) Dime Detective

Race Williams Cooks a Goose (October 1949) Dime Detective

The $100,000 Corpse (March 1950) Popular Detective (see [different-?*]: December 1937)

The Strange Case of Alta May (April 1950) Thrilling Detective

Little Miss Murder (June 1952) Smashing Detective Stories

This Corpse Is Free! (September 1952) Smashing Detective Stories Included in ‘Race Williams’ Double Date’ story collection

Gas (June 1953) Smashing Detective Stories Included in ‘Race Williams’ Double Date’ story collection

Head over Homicide (May 1955) [wrong title (misspelling): Head over Heels] Smashing Detective Stories


  1. ^ a b c d Server, Lee (1993). Danger Is My Business: an illustrated history of the Fabulous Pulp Magazines. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. pp. 62–65. ISBN 978-0-8118-0112-6.
  2. ^ a b c Penzler, Otto; Deutsch, Keith Alan, eds. (2012). The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-80825-7. Retrieved June 7, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e Server, Lee (2014). Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers. Facts on File library of American literature. Facts On File, Incorporated. ISBN 978-1-4381-0912-1. Retrieved June 8, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e DeAndrea, William L (1994). Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: a comprehensive guide to the art of detection in print, film, radio, and television. New York: Prentice Hall General Reference. p. 83. ISBN 0-671-85025-3.
  5. ^ Penzler, Otto, ed. (2008). The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps: The Best Crime Stories from the Pulps During Their Golden Age--The '20s, '30s & '40s. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-49416-0. Retrieved June 7, 2023.
  6. ^ Gruesser, John Cullen (2010). A Century of Detection: Twenty Great Mystery Stories, 1841-1940. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 297. ISBN 9780786446506.
  7. ^ Panek, Leroy Lad (1990). Probable Cause: Crime Fiction in America. Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press. p. 120. ISBN 9780879724856.
  8. ^ a b Moore, Lawrence D. (2015). Cracking the Hard-Boiled Detective: A Critical History from the 1920s to the Present. McFarland, Incorporated, Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7864-8239-9. Retrieved June 8, 2023.
  9. ^ Nolan, William F. (1985). The Black Mask Boys: Masters in the Hard-Boiled School of Detective Fiction. William Morrow & Company. pp. 273. ISBN 0-688-03966-9.
  10. ^ Mertz, Stephen (September 6, 2017). "In Defense of Carroll John Daly". Black Mask Online.
  11. ^ Barson, Michael S. (Fall–Winter 1981). "'There's No Sex in Crime': The Two-Fisted Homilies of Race Williams". Clues: A Journal of Detection. 2 (2): 103–12.
  12. ^ Hulse, Ed (2007). The Blood 'N' Thunder Guide to collecting pulps. Morris Plains, NJ: Murania Press. pp. 111, 117. ISBN 978-0-9795955-0-9.
  13. ^ Smith, Kevin Burton (February 16, 2020). "Clay Holt". Thrilling Detective. Retrieved June 7, 2023.
  14. ^ Herbert Ruhm, "Introduction", in Herbert Ruhm (1977), ed., The Hard-boiled Detective: Stories from "Black Mask" Magazine (1920-1951), New York: Vintage, p. xviii.
  15. ^ "Finding Aid for the Carroll John Daly Papers, 1930-1958". UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. Retrieved June 7, 2023.

Other resources[edit]

Daly, Carroll John (1947). "The Ambulating Lady" [essay on his writing style]. Writer's Digest April 1947. Repr. Clues: A Journal of Detection 2.2 (1981): 113-15.

External links[edit]