Frederick Nebel was born Louis Frederick Nebel on November 3, 1903, in Staten Island, New York. He dropped out of school at the age of fifteen to work on the New York waterfront. In 1920, he traveled to northern Canada, where he helped his granduncle operate a farm. In 1922, he returned to New York, found a job as a railroad brakeman, and began to write about some of the things he had seen in his travels.
Having sold several tales of life in the Canadian backwoods to Northwest Stories in 1925, a year later Nebel sold his first story to Black Mask. Thus began an association that during the next ten years would make him one of the major influences on the development of hard-boiled detective fiction and would result in a close friendship with Dashiell Hammett. In 1930, he married Dorothy Blank, whom he had first met during a visit to Paris two years earlier, and settled down in their Ridgefield, Connecticut, home to write steadily for Black Mask and other pulp magazines such as Action Stories, Danger Trail, and Sea Stories.
In 1933, his first novel, Sleepers East, was published, and its brisk sales and lucrative screen-rights optioning alerted Nebel to the possibilities of other markets. He obtained a literary agent, wrote two more popular novels in the next three years, and began to submit his work to such slick periodicals as Cosmopolitan and McCall’s. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, he also penned a number of television scripts, and he made a brief return to mystery fiction with the ten stories he wrote for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1956 and 1962.
In 1958, Nebel’s failing health necessitated a move to California, and in the following year he and his wife settled in Laguna Beach. His last story was published in 1962, although during the remaining five years of his life he worked intermittently on a novel that he was unable to finish. On May 3, 1967, three days after a severe cerebral hemorrhage, he died at the age of sixty-three, an obscure yet significant figure in the development of the classic hard-boiled detective story.