Max Latin

Created by Norbert Davis
(1909-49)

Guiterrez came out of the kitchen in a cloud of steam and slapped the heavy metal swing door violently shut behind him. He was a tall man with a dark, bitterly disillusioned face. He was wearing a white jacket and a white apron, and he had a chef’s hat crushed down over his right ear. There was a towel wrapped around his neck, and he wiped his forehead with its frayed end, glaring at Latin.

“What was the matter with it?’ he demanded.

–from “Watch Me Kill You”

By far my favourite of all Norbert Davis‘ oddball characters is the shady screwball scam artist and would-be private eye MAX LATIN.

Latin is such a slippery character that he won’t even admit he is a detective. Hell, if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s a sharpie who hangs out in a back booth at Guitterez’ Restaurant (a noisy and decidedly unglamorous joint that just happens to serve the finest grub in all of Los Angeles, named for — and run by — a foul-tempered chef who hates all mankind) and that he occasionally “helps” people with their problems, if he thinks there may be a buck or two in it for him.

Latin’s actually insulted if you insist he’s only pretending to be a crook. The cops, he explains, are simply too stupid to catch him.

Latin appeared in only five short stories, all in Harry Steeger’s Dime Detective, but each one is a gem, with a clever puzzle at its core and a nifty balance of comedy and action to keep things moving, Latin deftly enduring the tantrums of Guiterrez and avoiding the futile attempts of nemesis Inspector Walters of Homicide to nail him once and for all.

Davis was a relatively successful pulpster whose “fatal flaw” was, according to Jack Adrain, in Hard-Boiled, his “sense of humour…that was ultimately responsible for keeping him from being published more frequently.” Even now, a lot of people just “don’t get” Davis’ whacky blend of hard-boiled humour.

Definitely their loss. Davis was also responsible for the dog and dick team of Doan and Carstairs and Bail Bond Dodd. He also wrote about trust company investigator “Just Plain” Jones, as well as several other eyes for the pulps, including Max Clark, Mark Hull, Simeon Saxon and Ben Shaley.

SHORT STORIES

  • “Watch Me Kill You” (July 1941, Dime Detective)
  • “Don’t Give Your Right Name” (December 1941, Dime Detective: also The Hardboiled Dicks)
  • “Give the Devil His Due” (May 1942, Dime Detective)
  • “You Can Die Every Day” (December 1942, Dime Detective)
  • “Charity Begins at Homicide” (October 1943, Dime Detective)

COLLECTIONS

  • The Adventures of Max Latin (1988)Buy this book
    Collects all five stories, plus a great intro by John D. MacDonald.
  • The Complete Cases of Max Latin (2013)Buy this book
    Reprint of the classic 1988 collection, with original MacDonald intro, and now including the original illustrations from Dime Detective.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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