Johnny Fletcher & Sam Cragg
Created by Frank Gruber
(1904-1969; pseudonyms include Stephen Acre, Charles K. Boston & John K. Vedder)

JOHNNY FLETCHER and SAM CRAGG may claim to be private eyes or even book salesmen, but what they really are are scam artists supreme, always one step from the poorhouse or jail, it seems.

Johnny's the "brains" of the two, the one with the gift of gab, the one who comes up with the con, the scheme, the play that will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. Or at least enough to get a meal or a room for the night. Sam is the muscle, and then some, a musclebound galoot whose bicep flexing is more than enough to help Johnny sell multiple copies of Every Man a Samson which, in the normal scheme of things, would be enough to earn the boys bed and board. But the boys have bigger dreams than just some food in their stomachs and a place to crash.

Alas, nothing ever seems to go quite right for the pair -- they usually end up gaining and losing a fortune a couple of times a book. And then someone ends up dead, and they have to track down the real killer.

It may have been a formula, but it was sturdy enough to last fourteen books, and every one I've read has been a fast-paced, entertaining romp.

The first book in the series, The French Key (1940) even inspired a 1946 B-film from Republic. Gruber wrote the screenplay himself, and it featured Albert Dekker as Johnny Fletcher and Mike Mazurki (Moose Malloy in Murder, My Sweet) as Sam Cragg.

Author Frank Gruber was one of the most prolific of the great pulpsters, and recounted his experiences in The Pulp Jungle, a critical study. He also found the time to write several different private eye series. Beside Simon and Eddie, he wrote about cantankerous private eye Simon Lash, as well as dicks Otis Beagle and Joe Peel, and came up with TV hybrid P.I./cowboy Shotgun Slade.

UNDER OATH

  • "... my favorite Vegas-based mystery is The Honest Dealer... Like 90% of Frank Gruber's generous mystery fiction legacy, it's lean, shrewdly plotted and very very funny."
    -- Dick Lochte, from
    MysInDepth, October 2003
    .
  • "I always wonder when reading older books if certain somewhat transparent plot points were as obvious back then or I have just seen them used too often since. For instance, there's a minor bit in The French Key about getting back a rare coin slipped into a coin slot that was used on last week's episode of Monk. Still, Gruber largely lives up to his goal of mixing the plotting of Gardner with the humor of Latimer, especially the latter. Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg are great characters. I often found myself laughing out loud. I've often stated how much I like con job novels. This is not one of those, but Fletcher is definitely a scam artist. Much of the humor comes from his ability to talk himself out of trouble. I will definitely be reading more books in this series."
    -- Mark Sullivan

SHORT STORIES

  • "The Sad Serbian" (March 1939, Black Mask; Sam Cragg)
  • "The Laughing Fox" (July 10, 1940, Short Stories; Johnny Fletcher)

NOVELS

  • The French Key (1940) ,. Buy this book
  • The Laughing Fox (1940) ,. Buy this book
  • The Hungry Dog (1941; aka "The Hungry Dog Murders")
  • The Navy Colt (1941)
  • The Talking Clock (1941),. Buy this book
  • The Gift Horse (1942)
  • The Mighty Blockhead (1942)
  • The Silver Tombstone (1945)
  • The Honest Dealer (1947)
  • The Whispering Master (1947)
  • The Scarlet Feather (1948)
  • The Leather Duke (1949)
  • The Limping Goose (1954)
  • Swing Low Swing Dead (1964)

FILMS

  • THE FRENCH KEY
    (1946, Republic)
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Directed by Walter Colmes
    Starring Albert Dekker as JOHNNY FLETCHER
    and Mike Mazurki as SAM CRAGG
    Also starring
    Evelyn Ankers, John Elderedge, Frank Fenton, Richard Arlen, Byron Foulger

RADIO

  • JOHNNY FLETCHER MYSTERY
    (1947-48, syndicated)
    Series run Novermber 1948
    30 minutes
    Broadcast live
    Starring Bill Goodman as JOHNNY FLETCHER
    and Sheldon Leonard as SAM CRAGG
  • "The Navy Colt" (March 25, 1946 [audition])
    Hardly any info on this one, and much of it is contradictory. Only this earlier audition seems to have survived.

TELEVISION

  • SUSPENSE
    (1949-54, CBS)
    260 25-minute episodes
    Black and white
    Broadcast live
  • "1000-to-One For Your Money" (April 4, 1950)
    Based on the short story by Frank Gruber
    Starring Tom Drake as SAM CRAGG
    Also starring Betty Garde, Paul Stewart, Carol Williams
    Sam Cragg goes to meet a client in the "Little Serbia" section of the city and finds that everyone in the neighborhood lives in fear of a mysterious loan shark.

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Walt from Switzerland for the well-deserved smack upside the head.


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