Louis Lait

Created by Kermit Jaediker
(1911-1986)

What a difference a J makes.

When I was first clued in about “Lou” by a reader, I was told his full name was “JOUIS LAIT,” and that he was supposedly a private eye who showed up in at least one 1951 paperback from Lion, Tall Dark and Deadwritten by Kermit Jaediker?

Jouis, I thought? Kermit Jaediker?

Was someone pulling my leg, here?

I even checked with Big Al Hubin. He cautioned that he didn’t “have the book to double-check the character’s name” but he assured me that Jaediker was indeed real (and cited a Contemporary Authors entry). He further added that the book may have first appeared in hard cover “as early as 1947.”

Well, Al was right about the publishing date — Tall Dark and Dead was indeed published in hardcover in 1947 by Mystery House.

But it turns out the suspect eye’s name was LOUIS LAIT. He was a hard-boiled New York City private eye, and he did indeed all that hard-boiled New York City private eye stuff, in a Tall Dark and Dead, a 1947 hardcover in 1947 that was reprinted in paperback in 1951 by Lion Books, a paperback house that specialized in hard-boiled and noir pulp fiction.

In his only appearance to date, Lou’s hired by Tina Van Lube who’s being blackmailed by her ex-boyfriend over a bunch of naughty love letters. Of course the ex, much hated gossip columnist Erskine Spalding, is soon enough found dead with a knife in his back, which allowed Lion to run with a great, suitably pulpy tagline: “Blackmail couldn’t shut him up… a knife did!”

And true to form, It’s our man Lou who finds the body — although, naturally, he immediately skedaddles before informed the cops.

Of course the usual suspects abound: Tina’s husband, her slightly unhinged brother, the victim’s dedicated secretary, a gunrunner, a horde of Latin American revolutionaries and even a dancer named– I kid thee not — Lolita. Subtle it’s not. It’s not going to make anyone forget about Hammett or Chandler, or even Milton Furbuschlinger, and anyone looking for dark and dirty noir is going to be disappointed. The murderer is caught with the assistance of, um, a mouse.

James Reasoner tagged it “more breezy and lighthearted” than anything, on his Rough Edges blog, and goes on to add:

“And yet there are also some pretty violent scenes and one particularly harrowing one where the private eye has to escape when some of the villains have captured him and intend to torture him. All in all, this hits the marks very nicely and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both of Jaediker’s novels are excellent, and it’s a shame he didn’t write more.”

Anyway, you can read it all for yourself, now. It was included in yet another trio of Lions’ potboilers from Stark House in 2019, who sees to be slowly working their way through the Lion Books catalogue, along with two other Lions semi-classics: The Savage Chase by Frederick Lorenz and Run the Wild River by D.L. Champion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kermit Jaediker was born in 1911, possibly in New Jersey, and worked as a staff reporter for the New York Daily News, as well as a writer and colourist in the comics industry on such Golden Age titles as Air Fighters Captain Battle and Sub-Mariner Comics. He also co-wrote with Charles Zerner (under the pen name of “Paine”) a WWII-themed newspaper strip, Vic Jordan (1941-45), about a trench-coated American publicity flack/reporter knocking around in Nazi-occupied Paris. The strip made its debut the same week the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but unlike many American comics that used World War II as their setting, Vic Jordan knew when to quit — the strip ended when World War II did. From there, Jaediker apparently tried his hand at writing crime fiction. His first novel was Tall Dark and Dead, and his second, Hero’s Lust, featuring two-bit reporter Red Norton, was published in 1953, before he turned to contributing stories to such magazines as Swank and Male in the fifties. But through all this time, he was still working as a journalist for The Daily News, mostly covering — what else? — crime. He even won a 1971 award for the “Best Example of a Crusading Newspaper” by the Newspaper Guild of New York for “Open City for the Mafia,” a series of articles co-written with Joseph Martin, Edward Kirkman, Gerald Kessler, Frank Faso and Henry Lee.

UNDER OATH

  • “…pretty much run-of-the-mill.”
    — Isaac Anderson (Criminals at Large, December 28, 1947, New York Times)

NOVELS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks, Al.

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