Ambler, Dail (Betty Mabel Lilian Williams) (pulp fiction writer)


(1919-1974) Also wrote as: Danny Spade

This obscure hard-boiled novelist deserves greater acclaim as a rare female holding her own amidst an otherwise fraternal order of hack crime fiction writers in postwar Britain. Under the Ambler and then Danny Spade pen names, she churned out a series of tougher-than-tough detective novels about a hard-drinking, fist-flying, frequently-screwing Manhattan private eye, first-person narrator Spade—perhaps the long-lost brother of Dashiell hammett’s Sam Spade? The stories, and the style, were less hammett than Spillane gone nutty, crammed with sex, violence, and a jolly good try at the slang of American mean streets.

Born Betty Mabel Lilian Williams in Aldershot (information uncovered by England’s ace literary sleuth Steve Holland), she appears to have had a lively early career as a Fleet Street journalist and roving correspondent, including a possible stay in Hollywood, where she may have taken a screen-writing gig or two before returning to London and the world of the “mushroom jungle” (the term for the United Kingdom’s postwar pulp paperback industry). By 1950 she was comfortably ensconced with Scion Ltd., one of the leading purveyors of Brit lit trash, producing one or more Spade novels every month. Possessed of striking looks and platinum hair, Williams/Dail’s author photo might have come direct from her paperback cover illustrations of voluptuous vixens in low-cut gowns. In the ’50s her topics, with such titles as Waterfront Rat, Honey, You Slay Me, and White Curves and Black Chiffon, came out like clockwork.

When, in the mid-’50s, the pulp paperback boom in the United Kingdom dissolved in a sea of arrests, obscenity trials, and bankruptcies, Danny Spade retired and Dail Ambler began working in the local film industry. Her screenplay credits include at least one notable work, Beat Girl (1960), directed by the singular Herbert Greville. The film is a slang-packed look at London’s beatnik scene that Time Out magazine called “fascinating partly for the sheer prurience of its content.” After many years of hectic creativity, Dail Ambler moved to the Surrey countryside, her byline thereafter appearing rarely until her death at the age of 55.


  • Calling Mr. Spade (1952);
  • Curtain of Glass, A (1954);
  • Dame Plays Rough, The (1950);
  • Danny Spade Sees Red (1954);
  • Desert Guerrillas (1971);
  • Dial Death (1951);
  • Don’t Die On Me (1951);
  • Duet for Two Guns (1952);
  • Girl Called Coffee, A (1954);
  • Gun for Sale, A (1952);
  • Hi Jack (1953);
  • Honey, You Slay Me (1953);
  • How Far Can You Go (1953);
  • It Had to Happen (1948);
  • Johnny Gets His (1952);
  • Kiss Me as You Go (1953);
  • Lady Likes to Sin (1953);
  • Lady Says When, The (1952);
  • Not Killed—Just Dead (1952);
  • Nothing to Hide (1953);
  • She Liked It That Way (1950);
  • Silk and Cordite (1951);
  • Spades Are Trumps (1951);
  • Strong Arm Stuff (1952);
  • Three Men for the Job (1975);
  • Twice as Dead (1953);
  • Virgin Collector, The (1971);
  • Waterfront Rat (1951);
  • What’s with You (1952);
  • White Curves and Black Chiffon (1953);
  • Wildcat (1952);
  • You Slay Me (1951)

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