The TNT Punch. Featuring Steve Costigan. First published in Action Stories, volume 10, number 5 January 1931. 

Howard’s original title was “Waterfront Law“. He earned $75.00 for this story.

From the letters

In a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith (letter #139, circa September 1930) Howard says:

I’ve been lazy; doing very little work. I haven’t even got anything out at present. Since seeing you I sold, “Waterfront Law” to Fiction House. Yeah, a Steve Costigan; a new and original plot: Steve engages in a bloody battle to get some money which a crooked woman gypps him out of. They offered me $70.00. I’ve got to figure some way of making these stories longer. They’ve been too short lately.

Howard also explains how the title was changed in another letter to Tevis (letter #163, May 9, 1931):

I got a laugh out of my story which appeared this month in Action Stories. They changed the name of the character — McClarney — to Steve Costigan, though the style of the tale was nothing at all like Steve. And they capped the story “by the author of ‘The TNT. Punch’.” I never wrote a story by that title in my life.

The first part refers to the story ‘The Sign of the Snake’ where they changed the name of the character.


The story opens in Cape Town, where Steve’s dog, Mike, gets him into trouble, costing him his last ten dollars. Shortly after, Steve encounters Shifty Kerren, the manager of Kid Delrano, a boxer and Steve’s rival. Despite past bad blood, Shifty convinces Steve that Kid Delrano is in jail and needs money to pay a fine. Moved by a sense of patriotism and camaraderie, Steve agrees to help, despite his current penniless state.

Steve goes to the South African Sports Arena to earn the money by fighting. He negotiates a quick bout with Bucko Brent, an old nemesis from his sailing days on the Elinor. After a gritty and grueling fight marred by foul play from Brent, Steve emerges victorious and wins the prize money.

Returning to the bar to meet Shifty and give him the money, Steve discovers the deceit: Kid Delrano was never in jail. It was all a ruse for a bet between Shifty and Delrano, who mock Steve’s gullibility. In a fury, Steve administers a beating to Delrano and his cohorts.

As Steve leaves, heart heavy from being duped, he encounters a crying woman being evicted from her boarding house. Moved by compassion, Steve pays her overdue rent with his hard-earned prize money, only to later learn from the barkeep that he’s fallen victim to yet another scam led by a con artist known as Boarding-house Kate.


  • Steve Costigan: The protagonist, a sailor with a strong sense of justice and national pride.
  • Mike: Steve’s loyal white bulldog.
  • Shifty Kerren: Manager of Kid Delrano and a con artist.
  • Kid Delrano: A boxer and Steve’s rival, involved in swindling Steve.
  • Bulawayo Hurley: Promoter at the South African Sports Arena.
  • Bucko Brent: A former mate from Steve’s sailing days and his opponent in an impromptu boxing match.
  • Referee (unnamed): The official for Steve’s boxing match against Bucko Brent.
  • Bill Slane: Kid Delrano’s sparring partner and part of the con.
  • Boarding-house Kate: A scam artist who tricks Steve into paying her supposed overdue rent.
  • Landlady (unnamed): An accomplice of Kate in the boarding house scam.
  • Barkeep (unnamed): Works at the American Seamen’s Bar and provides Steve with information on Kate’s scam.

Ships mentioned

  • The Sea Girl: The ship Steve is aboard.
  • The Elinor: The ship where Steve and Bucko Brent first clashed.
  • The Nagpur: Bucko Brent’s current ship.

Alternate titles:


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