Murder From The East [1935]

Until very recently I’d never heard of Carroll John Daly; here’s how obscure he is: this post about his book Murder From The East is longer than his wikipedia entry. There are no peer-reviewed articles or books about him that I’ve been able to find in my, albeit cursory, search. He’s mentioned once in my pile of critical material on Hammett, in much the same way as gaming folks might talk about Dave Arneson: the forgotten co-creator of a phenomenon. I’ll doubtless delve deeper into this question over the next year, but in broad terms I’d certainly agree that his hero, Race Williams, is far more Mike Hammer’s spiritual father than Sam Spade or the Continental Op.

Murder From The East is fantastic in the old sense of the word: it’s just too much to hold even an iota of credibility, and Race Williams makes James Bond look positively sensible and restrained. The plot is straightforward: Race is propelled from one dramatic action sequence to another with healthy dollops of posturing and exposition to make it seem like there’s more to it than a simplistic violence-wish-fantasy. After a completely arbitrary length of strung-together sequences, a climactic final.

I think it’s fair to say that in Daly we have the real genesis of the modern action genre. It has all the hallmarks, all the trademarked situations, the one-dimensional everything. It reads like the novelisation of an 80s Schwarzenegger movie because it is the template and gensis of a whole echelon of trashy violence-worship. On some level, that must surely make him vastly more important and influential than Hammett; but not more interesting.

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