Tracy, Don (pulp fiction writer)


(1905-1976) Also wrote as: Roger Fuller, Barnaby Ross

A neglected figure (at least in his own country; his crime fiction has a cult following in France), Tracy was an amazingly fertile talent whose broad interests and experiences animated both hack assignments and more personal works through nearly 50 years of professional writing. Born in New Britain, Connecticut, he worked as a journalist as a young man, first at the New Britain Herald, then at the Baltimore Post in Maryland. The move south would prove significant, as much of Tracy’s subsequent creative output would find inspiration in the people and places, the history, and current social mores of the South’s eastern shore, from Maryland to Florida.

Vanguard published his first novel, Round Trip, in 1934. Making use of the author’s experience as a journalist, Tracy’s debut was an unblinking and unflattering look at a tough reporter, a drunkard whose vices leave him in the gutter more often than not—redeemed by love for a time, then tumbling back to the gutter after a terrible tragedy. The New York Times called it “another hard-boiled newspaper novel” that “depicts journalism in its lowlier aspects,” and declared it a “squalid tale.” A reviewer for topics magazine called it “strong stuff and straight stuff, but there is so much vigor in its style and such honesty in its portrait of the ‘prize bum’ that it cannot be dismissed as merely another routine product of the hard-boiled school.”

The following year Vanguard brought out Don Tracy’s second novel, Criss Cross, a work that showed in plot and language the influence of James M. cain, the newly acclaimed master of hard-boiled, sensational fiction. Criss Cross involved an amoral hero, a treacherous dame, adultery, a robbery, and a double cross. Johnny, a not-too-bright ex-boxer on the skids, takes a job as a guard on an armored truck; his lust for Anna, a beautiful woman married to a gangster, leads to his downfall. The critic Cyril Connolly, in a 1936 review in the New Statesman, sniffed at the topic’s lowbrow origins but reckoned it was hard to put down: “A fascinating crime story—aesthetically worse than The Postman Always Rings Twice, if that were possible—but begin it at any page, nevertheless, and you can’t stop till you’ve read all the others. It is a mass of fake simplicity, fake intensity, fake slang. Only the sentimentality and bad grammar are genuine. But one has to read it.”

What name recognition Tracy maintains in America is due almost entirely to Criss Cross—not the novel itself but the 1949 Hollywood adaptation, a superb film noir directed by Robert Siod-mak and starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo.

Tracy’s career as a novelist ground to a halt with How Sleeps the Beast?, a shocking exploration of racial conditions in the South, featuring a brutal lynching of a black man. Tracy considered himself a progressive man, and he was appalled by the heartless and endemic nature of the racism he saw in the southern states. He would return to the subject on several occasions. Never wanting to write a polemic on the subject, he tried to maintain a degree of objectivity in these stories. But How Sleeps the Beast? was considered too much too soon and could not find an American developer; it was published in Britain but did not appear in the United States until many years later, in the ’50s, when Lion topics judged it an exploitable paperback “original.”

Tracy continued in journalism until World War II, working as a writer, editor, and publicist for various media outlets. He began selling stories to the pulp magazines, mostly to the less significant sports and romance titles, including Popular Sports, Exciting Sports, Popular Love, and Thrilling Love. In the army, Tracy served his time as an officer in the military police, stationed in Washington, D.C. When he returned to writing fiction after the war, he took a new direction. Chesapeake Cavalier was a big, swashbuckling historical novel set in colonial America. The topic was a considerable success in hardcover and in subsequent paperback editions. Numerous historicals would follow, including Crimson Is the Eastern Shore, Roanoke Renegade, and Carolina Corsair.

In 1959 Tracy returned to crime fiction with The Big Blackout. Set in a small town in Florida (the author’s home state for the second half of his life), it concerned a local man’s involvement in the hunt for dope traffickers. The hero’s struggle with alcoholism was a subtext of the topic. The ravages of booze were a major concern of Tracy’s in later years, and he addressed the subject in both fiction and nonfiction works, including the novel The Big Brass Ring and a self-help volume called What You Should Know About Alcoholism. In the 1970s he worked for an organization that treated alcoholics.

In 1964 Tracy published a legal thriller that returned to his interest in race relations—with likely conscious echoes of Harper  best-selling To Kill a Mockingbird but more explosive by far. The Hated One was about a young black girl accused of murder and the white lawyer who defends her.

Tracy wrote his first detective series rather late in life. Deadly to Bed, published in 1960, was the first of the Giff Speer topics, about a master sergeant in the military police, an undercover agent who investigates crimes involving the U.S. Army. With the author’s own background in the military police and the topics’ Florida and southern settings, Tracy gave the Giff Speer novels plenty of vivid and authentic background. Speer himself was a smart, rational investigator who got the job done. Tracy avoided the usual tough-guy cliches to tell involving, well-structured stories. Some of the Speer topics had a torn-from-the-headlines timeliness, such as Look Down on Her Dying, published in 1968, which sent Speer to solve a murder at an ROTC post at a Louisiana college beset by campus unrest, student war protesters, and a group of right-wing paramilitary Cajuns.

In addition to the crime novels, historicals, juveniles, and nonfiction that he wrote under his own name, Tracy also produced, concurrently, a nearly equal amount of work under pen names, generally using the “Roger Fuller” byline for his hack jobs. These included such assignments as novelizations of television shows (Burke’s Law, The Defenders) and minor motion pictures (Son of Flub-ber, The Facts of Life), and the somewhat more distinguished job of writing sequels to the late Grace metalious’s Peyton Place blockbuster. Tracy published three novels, all Giff Speer mysteries, in 1976, the last year of his life.


  • Amber Fire, The (1954);
  • Bazzaris (1965);
  • Big Black-Out, The (1959);
  • Big Brass Ring, The (1963);
  • Big X, The (1976);
  • Black Amulet, The (1968);
  • Captain Little Ax (1956);
  • Carnival in Peyton Place (1967);
  • Carolina Corsair (1955);
  • Cherokee (1957);
  • Chesapeake Cavalier (1949);
  • Corpse Can Sure Louse Up a Weekend, A (1972);
  • Crimson Is the Eastern Shore (1953);
  • Criss Cross (1935);
  • Deadly to Bed (1960);
  • Death Calling Collect (1976);
  • Flats Fixed, Among Other Things (1974);
  • Fun and Deadly Games (1968);
  • Hated One, The (1963);
  • High, Wide and Ransom (1976);
  • Honk If You’ve Found Jesus (1974);
  • How Sleeps the Beast? (1938);
  • Last Boat Out of Cincinnati (1970);
  • Last Year’s Snow (1937);
  • Look Down on Her Dying (1968);
  • Naked She Died (1962);
  • No Trespassing (1961);
  • On the Midnight Tide (1957);
  • Pot of Trouble (1971);
  • Pride of Possession (1960);
  • Quintin Chivas (1961);
  • Reluctant Rebel (1968);
  • Roanoke Renegade (1954);
  • Round Trip (1934);
  • Sign of the Pagan (1954);
  • Streets of Askelon (1951);
  • What You Should Know About Alcoholism (1975)

As Roger Fuller:

  • Again in Peyton Place (1967);
  • All the Silent Voices (1964);
  • Eve of Judgment (1965);
  • Evils of Peyton Place (1969);
  • Facts of Life, The (1960);
  • Fear in a Desert Town (1964);
  • Hero in Peyton Place (1969);
  • Nice Girl from Peyton Place, The (1970);
  • On the Double (1961);
  • Ordeal (1964);
  • Pleasures of Peyton Place, The (1968);
  • Secrets of Peyton Place (1968);
  • Son of Flubber (1963);
  • Temptations of Peyton Place (1970);
  • Thrills of Peyton Place, The (1969);
  • Timeless Serpent, The (1964);
  • Who Killed Beau Sparrow? (1963);
  • Who Killed Madcap Millicent? (1964);
  • Who Killed Sweet Betsy? (1965)

As Barnaby Ross:

  • Duke of Chaos, The (1964);
  • Scrolls of Lysis, The (1962);
  • Strange Kinship (1965)

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