The Jerry Cotton phenomenon is nothing short of astonishing.
The German pulp magazine character — a resolute American FBI agent — debuted in 1954, in issue 68 of the anthology title Bastei Kriminal-Roman (Bastei Crime Novel, Bastei being the publisher), in a story titled Ich suchte den Gangster-Chef (I Sought the Gangster Boss). The character proved popular, and — after becoming a frequent staple in Bastei Kriminal-Roman — earned his own weekly title in 1956: G-Man Jerry Cotton. That magazine continues to be published to this day, albeit monthly; as these words are typed, issue No. 3,320 (!) can be ordered from Bastei’s web site. At its peak, the magazine was translated into 19 languages for readers in 52 countries … but, ironically, Cotton never successfully penetrated the U.S. market. His crime-laden adventures, told in the first person, supposedly are authored by the man himself; they’ve actually been ghosted by scores of different writers, most notably Heinz Werner Höber. A popular urban legend insists that this first-person perspective has fooled many readers, over the years, into sending letters to Cotton in care of the FBI’s New York offices (which the FBI cheekily refuses to confirm or deny).
Cotton’s exploits take place in an idealized and romanticized version of the United States: a view of American life that feels somewhat time-locked in the atmosphere of the post-World War II era, despite — as the decades passed — the eventual introduction of computers, smart phones and Al-Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, the many German authors’ vision of an amiably multicultural New York — mostly free of racism — has been far more progressive than reality. Jerry’s partner and best friend — the Watson to Cotton’s Holmes — is Phil Decker; they both report to John D. High, usually known as “Mr. High,” head of the FBI’s New York office.