The Defective Detectives

Handicapped Heroes

“I lost my left arm. I’m right-handed. There is some good in everything, if you look at it correctly.”
Dan Fortune

What is it about handicapped heroes? (Or physically-challenged or differently-abled, I guess).

Originally springing from the pages of the gloriously incorrect weird menace pulps of the thirties, such as Strange Detective Mysteries, Detective Mystery Magazine and especially Dime Mystery Magazine, this bizarre sub-sub-genre has had a long, if not always glorious tradition.

You can read all about it in the highly-recommended (if you can find it) The Defective Detective in the Pulps, a 1983 anthology edited by Ray Browne and Gary Hoppenstand, and its 1985 sequel, More Tales of the Defective Detective in the Pulps.

Although the intentional shock value of the “defective” eye has been virtually vanquished (“Look, ma! Freaks!”), physically-challenged eyes continue to this day, including such noteworthy specimens as Michael Collins’ outstanding Dan Fortune series, Dick Francis’ Sid Halley and Jonathan Lethem’s Lionel Essrog, which replace cheap gimmicks with compassion and understanding, and shock with empathy.

Though we’re not out of the woods yet. There was something about TV’s Monk‘s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) which was played for increasingly cheap laughs that just really bothered me…

But I digress…

Here are some of the best “defective” detectives, from the pulp era and beyond…

FROM THE PULP ERA…

  • Inspector Allhoff by D.L. Champion (missing a leg)
  • Ben Bryn by Russell Gray (polio victim)
  • Joe Gee by Wyatt Blassingame (insomnia; didn’t sleep while on a case)
  • Dan Holden by Leon Bryne (deaf)
  • Calvin Kane by Russell Gray (the “Crab Detective,” unable to walk due to his deformed body)
  • Captain Duncan Maclain by Baynard Kendrick (blind)
  • Lin Melchan by Warren Lucas (over-heightened sense of hearing)
  • Nat Perry by Edith and Ejler Jacobson (hemophiliac)
  • Peter Quest by John Kobler (glaucoma, resulting in periodic blindness)
  • Seekay by Paul Ernst (no face!)
  • Nicholas Street by Nat Schachner (amnesia)

… AND BEYOND

AND, IN PASSING

  • Fred Carver by John Lutz
    This Florida P.I. has to walk with a cane, thanks to the hold-up man’s bullet that ended his police career and left him with a permanently-stiff left leg.
  • Dan Green by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty
    During the course of their comic book adventures, Ms. Tree‘s young op loses a hand.
  • Disciple Manning by R. Scott Baker
    I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse (although Disciple himself is pretty clear on how he feels about it), but this Newark P.I. can’t forget anything. Literally.
  • Gil Hamilton by Larry Niven
    If you want to cross genres, Niven’s sci-fi eye Gil Hamilton is also missing an arm, although he manages to find a use for the incorporeal arm occasionally.
  • Joe Graham by Don Wilson
    Wilson’s series eye Neil Carey is the protege of detective Joe Graham, who is mising an arm.

Of course, we can”t forget those eyes who are, ummm, Reality-Challenged

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Mark Blumenthal, Duke Seabrook, Gerald So and Bill Kelly for their suggestions, insights and help with this page.

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