Matt Cordell/Curt Cannon

Created by Evan Hunter/Ed McBain/Curt Cannon
(Né Salvatore Lombino; also writes as Ed McBain, Evan Hunter, Hunt Collins, Richard Marsten, Ezra Hannon; John Abbott; 1926 -2005)

It's not the 87th Precinct but former private eye turned alcoholic skid-row bum CURT CANNON is a P.I. from Ed McBain well worth the visit. Even in the Bowery, people have problems, and Cannon has been known to sober up and crawl out of the gutter long enough to help them, on occasion.

Curt first appeared in several short stories published under Evan Hunter's byline. But the character's name in these stories was not Curt Cannon but MATT CORDELL. In fact, the very first Cordell story, "Die Hard," made its debut in the very first issue of Manhunt way back in the January 1953.

The blurb read "Cordell was washed up. His license was gone, his wife was gone, and his self-respect was gone. All he had was a glass of whiskey and a dead man on the barroom floor."

That's a great blurb and also an accurate one. Looking over "Die Hard" again after many years, it reaffirms my memory that the Cordell stories (Cannon in the book publication) were the hardest of hard-boiled. Here's the opening:

"The bar was the kind of dimly-lit outhouse you find in any rundown neighborhood, except it was a little more ragged around the edges. There were blue and white streamers crowding the ceiling, arranged in a criss-cross pattern strung up in celebration of some local hero's return a long time ago.

The mirror behind the bar was cracked, and it lifted one half of my face higher than the other. A little to the right of the bar was a door with a sign that cutely said, "Little Boys." The odor steeping through the woodwork wasn't half as cute."

These stories may be Hunter's purest efforts in the hard-boiled tradition. They retain a toughness that can, in one aspect at least, shock even today. Cordell is a private eye who lost his license after pistol-whipping his new bride's lover. The wife is gone but Cordell's interaction with women in this story (and I believe others in the series) is brutal even for the era.

Six of the stories were subsequently rounded up in the 1958 collection I Like 'em Tough, and there was also a novel, I'm Cannon for Hire, with the detective's name changed to Curt Cannon, and published as by Curt Cannon.

The novel was reprinted in 2005 by HardCase Crime as The Gutter and the Grave (the author supposedly always hated the title the original publisher had insisted upon). Of the reissued novel, Publisher's Weekly said "this revised reissue reminds readers that the late McBain had some serious noir chops."

In fact, McBain had just proofed the galleys of this reprint for HardCase when he died. Besides the famed 87th Precinct series, McBain also created private investigator, Benjamin Smoke and lawyer/sleuth and quasi-P.I. Matthew Hope.

SHORT STORIES

  • "Die Hard" (January 1953, Manhunt)
  • "Dead Men Don't Dream (March 1953, Manhunt)
  • "Now Die in It" (May 1953, Manhunt; as Ed McBain; also 1960, Dames, Danger, Death)
  • "Good and Dead" (July 1953, Manhunt; as Ed McBain)
  • "The Death of Me" (September 1953, Manhunt; as Ed McBain)
  • "Deadlier Than the Male" (February 1954, Manhunt)
  • "Return" (July 1954, Manhunt)
  • "The Beatings" (October 1954, Manhunt)

COLLECTION

Collects the first six stories.

NOVEL

  • I'm Cannon-For Hire (1958; aka "The Gutter and the Grave")...Buy this book

Respectfully submitted by Richard Moore, with additional information contributed by Kevin Burton Smith, Erin MacDonald and Jerry McMaster.


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