Dedicated fans of Dick Tracy have long been aware of the many ways the famous detectives stories have been told. In addition to the well-known comics, there have been radio shows, television, movies and of course novels. The novels began with Whitman Publishing in 1943. As the publisher of the children’s Big Little Books, it is not surprising Whitman chose to publish juvenile targeted novels as well. A couple of years later Dell Publishing, another publisher of Dick Tracy comics got in the act to produce a novel aimed at the adult market. With one rare exception in 1970, Dick Tracy novels ceased publication after the 1940’s until the Dick Tracy movie of 1990 gave Max Allan Collins the freedom to publish a number of Dick Tracy books. Today as Dick Tracy’s popularity begins to rebound maybe we will see a new mystery to read.
Dick Tracy Ace Detective (Whitman, 1943)
Dick Tracy Ace Detective was published in 1943 by the Whitman Publishing company as part of their Chapter Book series. The Chapter Books were novels based on comic characters targeted at a juvenile audience. Chester Gould is credited as the author but as Jim Doherty states in “The Prose Adventures of Dick Tracy“, it was almost certainly ghost written by an author less familiar with Dick Tracy’s world.
In Ace Detective Dick is asked to protect a wacky scientist living in Arizona whose invention if stolen by the Germans could swing World War II in favor of the Axis. After arriving in Arizona, Tracy is ambushed by gangsters, Nazis and an escaped insane asylum patient who is also the brother of the scientist he is protecting. Everyone was dressed as Native Americans creating a crazy fast-paced and comical adventure. Near the end of the story Tracy finds himself dealing with a kidnapping, murder, senator in danger and a threat to the nearest city. Dick Tracy’s victories seem to drop into his lap as he does little actual detective work, which is disappointing but the novel is still an important first for Dick Tracy.
Dick Tracy meets the Night Crawler (Whitman, 1945)
In 1945 Whitman published a second Dick Tracy Chapter Book novel titled Dick Tracy meets the Night Crawler. In this story, our hero, Tess Trueheart, Junior and Pat Patton take a fishing vacation to Colorado. As frequently occurs on Dick Tracy vacations, a crime occurs, this time a board member of a local mining enterprise has gone missing and Dick finds himself assisting the local sheriff.
A note suggesting the disappearance was in fact a murder was found, signed by the mysterious “Night Crawler” and over the next few days additional board members begin to vanish. Tracy is hard at work on the case when Tess and Junior are kidnapped by the Crawler and Tracy redoubles his deductive efforts until he himself is captured and Pat Patton must attempt to solve the case on his own. The adventure has a satisfying climax in a network of subterranean mine tunnels that the Night Crawler uses as his lair.
Dick Tracy and the Woo Woo Sisters (Dell, 1947)
Following the success of the Chapter Book novels, Dell Publishing published a full-length novel in 1947 called Dick Tracy and the Woo Woo Sisters. As with the previous Whitman books, this novel was credited to Chester Gould but was probably ghost written with several sources suggesting that author was Albert Stoffel. In this novel, one of the twin heiresses Madge and Millicent Woodley (The Woo Woo Sisters) is murdered with a poisoned cocktail in gangster Harry “The Tie” Markey’s nightclub. Tracy of course is suspicious of Markey, but murdered Madge’s boyfriend Timothy Hale, banker Archer Grant and sister Millicent are all possible suspects and Dick must unravel the mystery. With its quick talking, fast-moving and more realistic approach, Dick Tracy and the Woo Woo Sisters is the most adult of the three novels written in the 1940’s.
Dick Tracy (Tempo, 1970)
In 1970 William Johnston wrote a full-length mystery novel simply titled, Dick Tracy. In this book, a criminal mastermind named “Mr. Computer” kidnaps top minds from various scientific fields and uses a brain-drain machine to transfer their knowledge into his own mind. Mr. Computer hopes this knowledge will help him take over the world.
Strangely, with the exception of Sam Catchem, no regulars from the comic strip appear or are even mentioned in the story. The famous two-way wrist radios are omitted and Dick and Sam have little of the personality the mark them as the Tracy and Catchem we are familiar with. The novel reads more as a generic detective novel with the names Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem penciled in at the last-minute.
Dick Tracy (Bantam, 1990)
Published by Bantam Books, award-winning mystery novelist Max Allan Collins took over the reigns of writing the Dick Tracy comic strip in 1977 and with the release of Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy movie in 1990 wrote a novelization of the film. Titled, Dick Tracy, Collins adaptation of the film was very well written with Tracy facing off against most of his highest profile enemies including Big Boy, Pruneface and Flattop.
The novel keeps us turning the pages and Collins fills in many of the gaps by keeping the story grounded in Dick Tracy’s universe and keeping side characters like Diet Smith involved. Readers are teased at the end when the novel refuses to reveal the identity of the mysterious Blank at the end, done at the request of the movie studios who did not want the book to give away the ending of their movie. For fans of Dick Tracy and his many foes this is a great rendition of the movie and a very fun read.
Dick Tracy – The Secret Files (TOR, 1990)
The Secret Files by TOR Books is an anthology of Dick Tracy short stories that was also released in conjunction with the 1990 Dick Tracy movie. The Secret files was edited by Tracy comic strip writer Max Allan Collins and Martin H. Greenberg and featured a number of well known writers trying their hands and Dick Tracy.
The short stories are set anywhere from the time period of the 1930’s to the 1990’s and jump from action and adventure to puzzling mysteries. Here is the list of stories and authors of this anthology.
- Dick Tracy and the Syndicate of Death by Henry Slesar
- Dick Tracy Goes Hollywood by Ron Goulart
- The Cereal Killer by Rex Miller
- Auld Acquaintance by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee
- Rockabilly by F. Paul Wilson
- The Curse by Ed Gorman
- The Leo’s Den Affair by Francis M. Nevins Jr. and Josh Pachter
- Homefront by Barbara Collins
- The Paradise Lake Monster by Wayne D. Dundee
- Nordic Blue by Barry N. Malzberg
- Old Saying by John Lutz
- Whirlpool, Sizzle, and the Juice by Ric Meyers
- Chessboard’s Last Gambit by Edward D. Hoch
- Living Legend by Stephen Mertz
- Not a Creature Was Stirring by Max Allan Collins
Dick Tracy Goes to War (Bantam, 1991)
Max Allan Collins novelization of Dick Tracy was popular enough that he was contracted by Bantam to write two sequels. The first of these was published in 1991 and titled Dick Tracy Goes to War. Free from film constraints, Collins wrote a Tracy story during World War II in which Dick joins the war effort and is assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence and assigned back to his home town where he battles a group of Nazi spies led by the mysterious Black Pearl and the vicious Mrs. P., whom we know as Mrs. Pruneface.
The genesis for these stories of course comes from Gould’s 1940’s characters and story lines, which makes the novel all the more appealing to read a familiar story in a different way. Since this was a sequel to the movie, Collins sadly could not include the two primary Nazi characters from Dick Tracy’s past, Pruneface and the Brow as both were killed in the first novel. Still we get to see popular characters such as the Mole and B-B Eyes, satisfying our longing for the famous villains of the past. Collins himself is particularly proud of this book, calling it the best Tracy work he ever did in any medium and one of his best books overall.
Dick Tracy Meets his Match (Bantam, 1992)
The last Dick Tracy novel published to date was Dick Tracy Meets his Match, also written by Max Allan Collins. Now in post-war America of 1949, Tracy and his long-suffering fiancée Tess Trueheart are finally going to get married. In the first advent of reality television, Diet Smith plans to broadcast their wedding on live television as part of a new series called the Big Wedding.
The wedding is disrupted (of course) by the vengeful ex-con Trigger Doom, who tries to kill Dick leading to spectacular ratings when Dick foils the assassin. There is more to the plot that one angry man and Dick starts an investigation to uncover the wider conspiracy masterminded by T.V. Wiggles.