These days, Race Williams gets grudging acknowledgment as the first hard-boiled private detective to get his own series, but that’s about it. Truth to tell, he’s much more than that. He was also the most popular hard-boiled dick of the 30s, and enjoyed the longest running pulp career of any detective character.
From his debut in June, 1923 to his last bow in May, 1955, Race made more than ninety magazine appearances. A good number of those appearances featured segments of serialized novels later published in hardcover - and those novels are all now available, either in paper reprints or in PDF form (from Vintage Library).
But beyond the novels are at least fifty more stories and novelettes that have never been reprinted. One of those is “Alias Buttercup,” from the October, 1925 issue of Black Mask. This was Race’s tenth adventure, and it’s a far cry from his often-reprinted first appearance, “The Knights of the Open Palm.”
“Knights” was a quickie, and packed with bad grammar. It’s too bad that story is the only encounter most readers have had with Race Williams. “Alias Buttercup” was written two years later, when Daly had a much better grip on the character, and on his grammar. And this one filled 39 pages of Black Mask, making it almost a novella.
At the time, Black Mask still featured Western stories along with the mysteries, and this one veers into Western territory, taking Race to Mexico, where he actually rides a horse. Daly’s version of contemporary Mexico is very much like the Old West, and this was not the first time he’d sent a New York gunman down there to shoot it out with the locals. He did it a year earlier in the serialized version of Two-Gun Gerta, the sort-of Western he co-wrote with C.C. Wadell (reviewed HERE).
Anyway, “Alias Buttercup” is a good example of Race’s early career. It’s breezy, exuberant, and packed with action an sudden death. No, it ain’t great writing, but it’s great fun. I recommend you turn off your inner editor, access your inner fifteen-year-old and check out the first few paragraphs below.
If you’d like a copy of the whole story via email, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll shoot it back to you.