Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Lucky Stiff

cover image By: Rice, Craig (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) (female)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (391)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 360: PS3535 .I2217 L83 1947
Contributor: J. Lukin


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Craig Rice Geographic Locale: Chicago, Illinois Date of Publication: 1947  |  Original Date: 1945 Setting: urban; nightlife and afterhours Motives: vengeance, frame-up, murder

Plot Summary

Freed by the real murderer's dying confession, wrongly convicted Death Row inmate Anna Marie St. Clair pressures prison officials into reporting that she was executed on schedule. She claims to want to spend some time as a ghost in order to assure her own safety and perhaps to frighten her enemies. She finds an ally and admirer in the brilliant, hard-drinking Irish lawyer John J. Malone, whose pals Jake and Helene Justus are investigating a protection racket with connections to Anna Marie's frame-up. Parties who might provide leads in both cases begin to die violently. Anna Marie's "supernatural" appearances earn her celebrity, while her flesh-and-blood presence keeps Malone enthralled. Malone survives an explosion in a funeral parlor, a pompous cop's psychologizing, and a high-speed car chase to penetrate the morass of hatred and vindictiveness that motivated the various murders. Ultimately he is burdened with ugly truths that his sense of loyalty prevents him from revealing to anyone.

Major Characters

John J. Malone "the little lawyer," adult male, shrewd, sentimental, hard-boiled attorney who lives from hand to mouth

Jake Justus adult male, tall, red-haired, former journalist and press agent who runs a nightclub

Helene Brand Justus adult female, beautiful, blonde society girl who married Jake and became a tough amateur detective

Al Harmon adult male, tall young man from Detroit, sometimes honest, works for the Chicago district attorney

Captain Daniel von Flanagan adult male, dedicated but pompous police officer who hopes to become a psychotherapist

Jesse Conway adult male, white-haired with a "broken-down face,"corrupt attorney with flashes of conscience

Bill McKeown adult male, "burly but suave," proprietor of a cheap mob hangout

Anna Marie St. Clair adult female, from a Wisconsin dairy farm, nightclub singer with underworld connections

Milly Dale adult female, nightclub singer in Jake's employ

Rico di Angelo adult male, large, bartender and funeral director


guns, bomb

Level of Violence

mostly occurs offstage or in brief, abrupt descriptions. Five people are shot to death and one killed by a bomb; three injured.


no sexual relations are described during the few days over which the action takes place.

Gender Roles

the only profession in which women are employed is show business. Intelligence, however, is valued in both sexes, and the smartest characters aside from Malone are women. Men who take a chivalrous attitude that assume women need protection and pampering are shown to be mistaken.


everyone is seemingly European-American. The Irish and Italians are passionate, sentimental, and fiercely loyal. The Irish hero is a heavy drinker. The Jewish movie producer is a stereotypical showbiz figure, interested only in star-making.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

everyone drinks and smokes socially. Jake Justus drinks when under pressure. Malone drinks all the time.

Law Enforcement

the Chicago cops are depicted as honest, strong, agile, and not too bright.

Added Features

The Lucky Stiff has its comic moments, but generally possesses a more somber tone than Rice's earlier Malone stories. Neither Jake nor Malone is a paragon of righteousness or of hard-boiled strength. Malone can't seem to decide on what level he wants to conduct his seduction of Anna Marie: he buys her flowers and lingerie. Malone has a knack for mixed aphorisms, such as, "Don't count your birds in the hand before they come out of the bush."

Subject Headings

Illinois - Chicago/ Law and Lawyers/ Murder/ Revenge

Psychological Elements

Jake Justus is gripped by guilt over his inability to both fight crime and protect his wife. Malone is ruefully sentimental, addicted to life on the edge of poverty and violence, and susceptible to the manipulations of women. Another character is motivated by envy and hatred to wreak violence on a number of people.