Hard-Boiled Dames.

hard-boiled dames

Hard-Boiled Dames (1986), edited by Bernard Drew says it’s “A brass-knuckled anthology of the toughest women from the classic pulps”. This anthology features women detectives, reporters, adventurers and even a few criminals from 1930’s pulp fiction magazines. Marcia Muller notes in her preface, “Although the courageous independent female sleuth may have, for whatever reasons, gone somewhat out of fashion in the suspense fiction of the 1950’s and 60’s, she was very much in evidence in the pulp magazines of the 30’s and 40’s.”

21st century mystery/crime fiction fans of the more hard-boiled variety could easily think that the genre was populated with no shortage of female sleuths (the bad-ass ones, that is) all along. Not so, of course. Before things exploded in the early 1980’s, thanks to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and some others, there’d been nearly thirty years of ‘blonde bombshells’ like Honey West, Mavis Seidlitz, Marla Trent, and weirder still, Cherry Delight, The Baroness, The Lady From L.U.S.T. and other one-shots and series focused more on the protagonists’ looks and bedroom antics. While the 1940’s through the early 50’s had a decent run of smart, hard-fighting female private eyes, reporters, district attorneys and sundry cloaked/costumed crime fighters, it was relegated to comics much more than pulp fiction or novels. You really have to dial back to the 1930’s pulp era to uncover the female detectives and their associates, and some of the best are featured in this book.

I read my first Carrie Cashin story in Hard-Boiled Dames, and then went hunting for more. Carrie looks “like a demure brown-eyed stenographer in a tailored jacket and tweed skirt”, and in front of clients often defers to her “broad-shouldered assistant Aleck, to allay any clients’ concerns about a woman detecting”. But Miss Cashin is the head of the Cash And Carry Detective Agency, the first to leap into danger, and clearly the brains of the outfit. This anthology includes author Theodore Tinsley’s “The Riddle In Silk”, in which Carrie (with assistant Aleck in tow) investigates a bloody murder in a mansion on the requisite dark and stormy night, which leads them back into the city and ultimately to the waterfront docks on the trail of a stolen pair of silk stockings which “may mean the difference between peace and war in Europe”, the hose containing secret coded messages.

Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady is here too, in “The Domino Lady Doubles Back”, along with Katie Blayne, Trixie Meehan – 15 stories in all, each accompanied by 2 page introductions about the authors and their characters, and reproductions of the original pulps’ illustrations. If you see this book around, snatch it. It’s a good read, and a real eye opener about


Stiletto Gumshoes: Kim Delaney

kim delaney

‘Stiletto Gumshoes’ of a sort on TV: Kim Delaney, first known as Detective Diane Russell on NYPD Blue, then as criminal defense attorney Kathleen Maguire on Philly, which only lasted one season back in 2001 (below), and then on CSI: Miami in 2002, though written off after ten episodes.




Gale Gallagher

Chord In Crimsons

“Gale Gallagher” is both the author and the private eye character herself in two late 1940’s novels, I Found Him Deadand Chord In Crimson. The books are written as if the private investigator herself is detailing authentic case histories in response (or even rebuttal) to the glut of hard-boiled detective novels so popular at the time. In fact the first book’s rear dust jacket purports to show the author/detective herself. Actually, the character — and pen name — was the real-life husband and wife writing team of Margaret Scott and William Oursler.

Private investigator Gallagher is the daughter of a widower New York cop, raised like a boy and groomed for a career in law enforcement. But she abandoned the police academy to open her own agency, the Acme Investigating Bureau. Gale’s licensed to carry (but rarely does). She’s smart, sarcastic, an elegant dresser, frequents Manhattan’s nightclubs and dates (or at least flirts with) her share of men.

I FOund Him Dead Front & Back

Rooting around in the dusty history of mid-twentieth century ‘stiletto gumshoes’ can be a little frustrating.  Intriguing characters like Scott and Oursler’s Gale Gallagher vanished, while ‘blonde bombshells’ like G.G. Fickling’s Honey West and Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz flourished in multiple titles and editions. In a way, Gale Gallagher marks a transition point between the relatively demure amateur female sleuths from the 1930’s pulps and drawing room mysteries to the ‘saucier’ 50s/60s/70s series, and owes more to the familiar male hard-boiled private eye series of the time.

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