Nicknamed “the Little Giant” within the pages of Street and Smith’s dime novels, Nick Carter was approximately five feet, four inches in height and astoundingly muscular. Robert Sampson quotes an early description of Carter that enumerates his talents: “He can lift a horse with ease, and that, too, while a heavy man is seated in the saddle. Remember that he can place four packs of playing cards together, and tear them in halves between his thumb and fingers.” Carter was schooled in the art of detection by his father, Sim Carter; he mastered enough knowledge to assist him through several lifetimes. He soon gets the opportunity to use these skills, as his father is murdered in his first case.
More than any other detective, the early Nick Carter depends on changing his identity to solve the crime. These adventures, in which few actually see the real face of Nick, are overflowing with delightful Carter-made characters such as “Old Thunderbolt,” the country detective, and Joshua Juniper, the “archetypical hayseed.” These disguises enable Carter to combat several archfiends. The most famous of these is Dr. Quartz, who first appeared in a trilogy of adventures with Nick Carter in 1891. Having preceded Professor Moriarty by two years, Quartz can be considered the first recurring villain in detective fiction. Although Quartz is supposedly killed, he returns as “Doctor Quartz II” in 1905 with little explanation.
Quartz typifies much of what would be later mimicked in Hollywood and on the paperback stands. He practices East Indian magic and is accompanied by exotic characters such as the Woman Wizard, Zanoni, and Dr. Crystal. In one episode, Quartz...
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