Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cooking a Red Goose

You probably don’t know who Ben Shaley is, but you should. He’s actually quite important.

I couldn't find a cover image of either of the issues that featured Ben Shaley, so here's a random cover instead
Shaley is a hard-boiled P.I. with a smart mouth. He had a pretty short career, appearing in two Black Mask magazine in 1934 (the February and April issues, to be exact).

Shaley’s creator is Norbert Davis, who—despite being stuck with the name “Norbert”—was a talented writer in the hard-boiled school. Davis also had a talent for injected comedy (sometimes screwball comedy) into his stories without during them into parody or otherwise reducing the hard-boiled tone. His Doan and Carstairs stories, starring a small-time detective and the Great Dane who assists him, are must-reads.

“Red Goose”—the first Ben Shaley story—doesn’t have the same level of humor that Davis’ later stories often had, but it still has some pretty witty moments. (I’ve never had a chance to read “The Price of a Dime”—Shaley’s other appearance.)

“Red Goose” is a good, solid detective story. Shaley is hired to recover a stolen painting. He gets a line on one of the guys who was hired to start a fight when the painting was stolen, thus distracted the security guards. But this lead suddenly seems beside the point when a young woman calls and tells him she has the painting.

 She seems like a nice enough lady—but few women in a hard-boiled story turn out to be nice. So it's not surprising that this one turns out to be a double-crossing dame. But the crooks she's already double-crossed might want to have a word or two with her.

What follows is a hostage situation followed by a nasty gun & fist fight.  That in turn leads to an effective twist ending.

“Red Goose” is indeed a good read, but what makes it so important? Well, it’s one of the stories that Raymond Chandler read when he was studying hard-boiled fiction with the intent of writing for the genre himself. He considered “Red Goose” one of the better ones and later cited it as an influence.

(Interestingly, when Chandler re-read the story years later, he still liked it, but didn’t think it was quite as good as he remembered it.)

So without Ben Shaley, we might not have gotten Philip Marlowe or The Big Sleep or Farewell My Lovely.  I’m not sure civilization could have survived without that. Though Shaley had a short career, it was certainly an important one.

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