The Wire Devils

A Classic Mystery Novel of the American Railroad

The Wire Devils is less erudite than The Education of Henry Adams, to put it mildly. But Packard’s potboiler is just as telling, hugely entertaining, and perhaps a more representative artifact of the technological sublime. It also has more fight scenes.
— from my Introduction

The Wire Devils is a pulp adventure novel by Frank L. Packard, originally published in 1918. It’s a kind of high-tech thriller from the days when railroads and telegraphs were still “high-tech.” The University of Minnesota Press has just published this splendid new edition with a historical introduction by me.

Frank Packard was a best-selling writer of crime and railroad thrillers in the early 20th century. The Wire Devils is one of his best: a fast-paced game of cat and mouse between jewel thieves, train robbers, and secret agents, all played out on the rails and telegraph lines of the American West.

My introduction describes the historical world of crooks, codes, and counterfeiters from which The Wire Devils sprang, and tries to explain why the book is still worth reading a century after it was written. Packard’s potboiler is a terrific document of the railroad and telegraph at the zenith of their influence on American life. But it’s also a lot of fun: a two-fisted pulp adventure that goes like a runaway train.