THE DIME NOVEL DETECTIVES Part II
Part I HERE
Street and Smith entered the detective genre in their story paper The New York Weekly, where their most famous detective made his bow in 1886 in The Old Detective’s Pupil. Written by John R. Coryell (1851-1924), the serial introduced old Sim Carter, a master detective, who is murdered by kidnappers. His young son and pupil, Nicholas, swears to track down the killers and bring them to justice. Nick Carter went on to become an American institution, one who still reappears in paperback novels from time to time. Young, clean living and athletic, Nick is a master of disguise, international diplomacy and rational deduction. He and his various assistants had worldwide adventures, battling both ordinary thugs and exotic villains like “Dr. Jack Quartz” and the international crime syndicate “Dazaar,” a sort of “S.P.E.C.T.R.E.” precursor. In 1891, Nick received his own series, the black and white Nick Carter Library. The colored cover Nick Carter Weekly appeared in 1897 and lasted until 1912. Nick was the Frank Merriwell of the detective genre. Eventually, about thirty authors contributed to the canon, including Edward Stratemeyer, Eugene T. Sawyer, Thomas C. Harbaugh and the flamboyant Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey. Nick Carter’s adventures continued in the “thick book” Magnet and New Magnet Libraries and remained in print until 1933.
Street and Smith issued their first two series of quarto dime novels in 1889: The Log Cabin Library and the Nugget Library. Many detective tales appeared in both lines, such as The Pinery Dens Detective; or, Among the White Slaves of Wisconsin, Who Shot Chief Hennessey? by Pere Absinthe(!), Darrow The Floating Detective and dozens of James Boys novels. Street and Smith purchased hundreds of stories from other publishers, including George Munro. They issued Old Broadbrim (later Young Broadbrim) Weekly in 1902-1903, based on an Old Cap. Collier character. From 1905 to 1907 they issued Bowery Boy Weekly about a Horatio Alger-ish street boy who solved mysteries. These harkened back to Beadle serials about “Turkey Billy the Shine-‘Em-Up Detective” and “New York Nell, The Boy-Girl Detective.” Many of the Old Cap. Collier Libraries were rewritten for the Magnet Library and appeared among the Nick Carter adventures.
In imitation of the Nick Carter tales, publisher Lou Ostendorff issued his Bob Brooks Library in 1893-1894. These also ran stories about western bandits, including the James Boys. One of the last of the colored cover weeklies to feature detective stories was the short lived Dick Dobbs Detective Weekly, which lasted for only seven issues in 1909, about a sophisticated millionaire sleuth.
Pulp magazines supplanted the dime novel detectives during the 1920s, in turn succumbing to radio, television and motion pictures. A real or virtual visit to the paperback fiction section of any bookseller will prove that the popular detective story is alive and well.
For further reading:
Marlena E. Bremseth (ed.), Who Was Guilty? Two Dime Novels by Philip S. Warne/ Howard W. Macy (Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2005)
J. Randolph Cox, The Dime Novel Companion, A Source Book (Greenwood Press, 2000)
Gary Hoppenstand (ed.), The Dime Novel Detective (Popular Press, 1982)
Garyn G. Roberts, Ray B. Browne, Gary Hoppenstand (eds.) Old Sleuth’s Freaky Female Detectives (Popular Press, 1990)
A number of detective dime novels have been digitized by Google Books (Frank Tousey’s Secret Service Weekly.) HERE
and by Bowling Green State University (Old Cap. Collier Library, Old Sleuth Weekly and a selection of Beadle’s Dime and Half-Dime Libraries.) HERE
The Dime Novel Detectives Part III Gallery HERE