Thomas W. Hanshew’s writing life divides into two sections. Until the turn of the century, when at the age of about forty-three he moved from his native United States to England, he had made a living as a writer of melodramas for the stage and as a prolific author of dime and nickel novels. Beginning in the late 1870’s, Hanshew contributed sensational romances to the story paper Young Men of America, and some of these tales were reprinted in dime-novel format. According to dime-novel expert J. Randolph Cox, Hanshew used many pseudonyms, some of which were house names, including Old Cap Collier, Dashing Charley, Old Cap Darrell, H. O. Cooke, Charlotte May Kingsley, R. T. Emmett, and a U.S. Detective. He may have been one of the many authors who wrote as Bertha M. Clay in a series of the most popular, though saccharine, romances of the era.
The second phase of his life began when he moved to England with his wife and daughter. Almost immediately, his first clothbound book, The World’s Finger: An Improbable Story (1901), was published, to be followed by other novels that emphasized mystery and detection, though Hanshew always tried to have something for everybody and therefore included romance, adventure, and an occasional anarchist. His stories also appeared in popular fiction magazines such as Cassell’s, The Red Magazine, and The Story-Teller.
In 1910, when he was in his fifties, Hanshew hit his vein of gold with the publication of The Man of the Forty Faces, the first book about Hamilton Cleek. It was followed by more than fifty short stories and a series of Edison silent films, featuring Thomas Meighan as Cleek. Hanshew died in 1914, but his wife and daughter continued the series based at first on Hanshew’s notes and retaining his name as author and later as coauthor with his wife, Mary E. Hanshew. The final two volumes of Cleek’s adventures, published in the 1930’s, were credited solely to his daughter, Hazel Phillips Hanshew.