Created by Alan Farley (pseudonym of Zale Herrington, aka "W. Lee Harrington")
“No job is too odd for Trye to fill.”
Given the tendency to obscure gender behind initials and pseudonyms, a roll call of hard-boiled women writers of the pulps doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But they did exist, and some of them were damn good.
A case in point is Alan Farley who was, according to E. R. Hagemann’s A Comprehensive Index to Black Mask, 1920-1951, the pseudonym of (Mrs.) W. Lee Herrington. Biographical information is scarce as hell up until recently we didn't even know what her real name was (turns out it's "Zale"). But we know that her husband, W. Lee Herrington, was a fellow pulp writer (and a 1952 Best First Novel Edgar nominee for Carry My Coffin Slowly), and that they may have occasionally collaborated, sharing his byline. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe she was also W. Lee Harrington. Suffice it to say it's complicated.
But as “Alan Farley” she had at least a couple of stories published in Black Mask. They’re solid, enjoyable efforts that more than hold their own, but it was her short string of stories featuring MIKE TRYE that appeared in Dime Detective that really knocked my socks off.
Mike Trye wasn’t a private eye, per se instead, he ran a rather peculiar employment agency from the third floor of the McNair Building that proudly boasted that “No job is too odd for Trye to fill.” But somehow dead bodies always seemed to pop up, mking murder perhaps the oddest job of all.
And odd they were and of a surprisingly domestic nature for the pulps, which rarely acknowledged a world beyond the mean streets. In “Death Burns the Beans" in the September 1945 issue, for example, Mike’s hired by a housewife to turn off a pot of beans (what else?) left simmering on a stove and in “Malady in F” (June 1946) he's tasked with escorting a young musical prodigy to a recital. In his final outing, "Hussies Prefer Homicide," he's even hired by a soon-to-be-dead man to prevent somebody from drinking. Of course, murder always soon rears its ugly head (Hey! It’s the pulps!), but Trye proves to be an engaging and more-than-competent detective, despite his protests that's he's not a proivate eye, with more than a few tricks of his own (and some top notch wisecracks) up his sleeve.
What made the stories so entertaining and refreshing -- beyond the quick wit and loopy scenarios, reminiscent of fellow pulpster Norbert Davis at his whimsical best, and the surprising (for the pulps) emphasis on the day-to-day concerns of the harried housemakers who made up Trye’s client base) was the Chandleresque sense of bruised romanticism and compassion with which ‘Alan’ somehow invested her stories:
Trye appeared in at least four stories, but given the numerous bylines she used, there may be a few more out there somewhere.
- “A Mouse in the Hand” (November 1944, Dime Detective)
- “Death Burns the Beans” (September 1945, Dime Detective)
- “Malady in F” (June 1946, Dime Detective)
- "Hussies Prefer Homicide" (May 1950, Dime Detective; by Zale Herrington)
Supposedly a "Complete Book-Length Novel."
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with a very big merci to Tadié Benoît for some nifty detective work. Be sure to check out his amazing Front criminel: Une historie du polar américain.
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