“Black Talons”, or as the original title was “Talons in the Dark”, unfolds a mysterious and chilling tale set against the backdrop of the secluded White Lake, where Joel Brill, a man of science, becomes entangled in a horrifying series of events following the brutal murder of his friend, Jim Reynolds. What starts as a perplexing murder investigation soon spirals into a deadly confrontation with a primal terror that transcends the boundaries of the known world.

The story was sold for $65 and published in Strange Detective Stories as “Black Talons”. After Kline was paid, Howard received $55.25.

From the letters

In a letter (#259) to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. September or October 1933 Howard tells him about his story:

Lately I’ve been trying to write detective yarns, something entirely new for me, and haven’t had much success — in fact none, so far, except for a short yarn, “Talons in the Dark”, written in San Antonio last spring, and which Kline, as my agent, sold to a magazine called Strange Detective Stories. Kline has been a big help in teaching me the technique of detective story writing; whether I am able to profit by his teaching remains to be seen. (Kline marketed another yarn for me since I wrote the above.)

The other story mentioned is probably “The Teeth of Doom,” published as “The Tomb’s Secret.”

Howard writes to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. October 1933 (letter #260):

How are your parents, and how is business? Kline cracked me into a new market — Strange Detective Stories; don’t know how it’ll pan out.

Strange Detective Stories bought two Howard stories, “Talons in the Dark” (published in December 1933 under the title “Black Talons”) and “The Teeth of Doom” (published in February 1934 under the title “The Tomb’s Secret” and the byline “Patrick Ervin”) in September 1933, and another, “The People of the Serpent” (published in February 1934 under the title “Fangs of Gold”) in October.

He also mentions the story in a letter (#271) to August Derleth, circa December 1933:

Glad you found my “Black Talons” (originally titled “Talons in the Dark”) in Strange Detectives of some interest. You’re right in saying that I don’t have the feel for detectives that I do for weirds. However, I’ve been writing weirds for nine years, and “Black Talons” was the first detective story I ever wrote in my life. Daigh has a couple of other yarns, “Teeth of Doom” and “People of the Serpent”, which are better.

“Daigh” is Ralph Daigh (1907-1986), editor of Strange Detective.

Alternate title and variant of:



The story begins at the exclusive Corinthian Club, where Joel Brill expresses frustration over his inability to find information about a West African ceremonial dance. Detective Buckley, an acquaintance, suggests asking other club members for insights. After failing to reach his friend Jim Reynolds via telephone, Brill learns from Reynolds’s Chinese servant, Yut Wuen, that Reynolds has supposedly gone to meet him at a lakeside cottage in response to a call that Brill never made.

Suspecting something amiss, Brill and Buckley drive to the cottage only to discover Reynolds brutally murdered, with his throat not just cut but savagely torn. With no clear entry or exit signs for the murderer, and Reynolds’s firearm discharged once without effect, the scene suggests a horrific attack rather than a human assailant. They find that the electricity had been deliberately shut off, adding to the mystery.

The plot thickens as Buckley and Brill return to the scene the next night to find Reynolds’s servants—Yut Wuen, Ali the Egyptian, and Jugra Singh the Sikh—waiting to enact their own form of justice on Brill, believing him responsible for Reynolds’s death. As they prepare a brutal execution for Brill, involving a rat and a heated bowl, the power cuts off again. In the ensuing darkness, a monstrous form attacks, killing the servants before fleeing into the woods.

Brill, now freed, follows a blood trail into the woods where he encounters a dying African man, Guja, dressed in tribal garb and fitted with metal hooks for claws, revealing him as the “leopard man” responsible for the killings. Before dying, Guja attempts to pass his “tools” to another person, leading Brill to a shocking discovery. John Galt, another club member and a known explorer, appears, revealing his own role in a complex plot involving stolen tribal gold, revenge, and betrayal. Galt tries to coerce Brill into joining him but is thwarted as Detective Buckley arrives just in time to overhear and intervene, resulting in Galt’s arrest.


  • Joel Brill: A museum-connected scientist and central protagonist, falsely implicated in Reynolds’s murder.
  • Jim Reynolds: A wealthy and somewhat mysterious figure, whose murder sets the narrative in motion.
  • Detective Buckley: A detective and observer, whose suspicions of Brill lead him to uncover the truth.
  • Yut Wuen, Ali, Jugra Singh: Reynolds’s loyal servants, who seek revenge against Brill under the belief that he orchestrated Reynolds’s death.
  • Guja: The “leopard man”, a member of the African Ekoi tribe, used by John Galt to commit the murder as part of a revenge plot.
  • John Galt: An explorer with a dark side, orchestrating the murder for personal gain tied to stolen tribal gold.

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