What’s the Best Boot Knife for a Post-WWII NYC Detective?

Note from Ben: While I haven’t posted a new article in some time here, I will share interesting questions as they come in from time to time. I have no intentions of shuttering this site. It and the accompanying book are here as resources for writers.

Also, I’ve got a new, non-fiction outdoors survival book out today. I’m sure there’s no correlation whatsoever.


I’d like your advice on selecting a knife for a character in a historical detective novel. It’s set in 1948 in NYC, but I’m not particularly worried about knife laws. (My P.I. takes an “easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach to weapons laws in general.)

I’m aiming for a fixed blade knife he keeps strapped in a sheath on his ankle as a last resort/surprise defense weapon. His skill level is intermediate; a knife isn’t his go-to, but he knows how to use it. The F-S, KA-BAR, and Randall Model 1 you list in your guide all seem like nice (and iconic) choices, but given the overall length of about a foot plus the sheath, I’m not sure if they’d be too bulky for a guy that spends a lot of time on foot.

I realize I could just write around it and say he’s carrying a switchblade or boot knife or a combat knife, but my character is a tech junkie type when it comes to weapons, and I think it’ll be more fun for the reader if they can visualize the model. Thanks for any help you can give me, and thanks for the guide.

~Thomas Meister


The good news is that your novel is set after World War II, which means there are loads of knife options. The backbone of much of the commercial knife industry as we know it today was formed during the first half of the 1940s. Military boot knives were available on the U.S. civilian market, and they mostly would’ve originated from the U.S., British, German and Japanese militaries.

In World War II, when these knives were strapped against the ankle, they were worn primarily by pilots and airborne units for jumps because, as you pointed out, walking long distances with a foot-long knife strapped to your ankle isn’t comfortable. The knives were either strapped to the outside of the ankle or slipped into a sheath secured against the leg. These public domain images demonstrate those styles:

Allied soldier boot knife

Fairbairn-Sykes boot knife World War II

For your detective character, either method of wear requires some thought about access and discretion. Keep the character’s pants loose enough so the sheath doesn’t print against the fabric, and also so that the detective doesn’t need to stop and roll up the pant leg to get at the knife. (Those could be cool details to include in the story for a shot of realism, too.)

For what you’ve described, one knife model comes to mind more than any other: the Fairbairn–Sykes British Commando knife.

Fairbairn Sykes dagger

The slim profile of the Fairbairn-Sykes combat dagger makes it an ideal boot knife for this time period, even if by modern standards it’s too large. (Wikimedia image)

This dagger was not only used as a boot knife in World War II, there’s a good chance a U.S. civilian would’ve encountered one for sale in post-World War II NYC.

Yes, there were other boot knives along similar lines, but the F-S is the perfect fit for that time period and came in multiple variations. You can use the latter to your advantage. Make the overall length as short or as long as you need it to be, because that version was probably produced during the war (just don’t go too small, like less than 6 inches end to end). I hope that helps with the issue of your character’s comfort while walking around.

One final note: the F-S is not a glorified letter opener. It’s the real deal, as this video will tell you:

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2 Revolvers, 1 Rifle: Best Guns for Writing a Western Novel

guns used in western fiction

Court Merrigan is a writer I’ve known for a good while, having served as a beta reader for him on some of his work. We connect over Facebook about firearms and all things writing, so I was thrilled to hear his western novel was picked up by Beat to a Pulp for publication. Merrigan’s novel may go down as having the most loquacious title of 2017, pulling double duty as the preface to the rest of the work:

THE BROKEN COUNTRY: Being the Scabrous Exploits of Cyrus & Galina Van, Hellbent West During the Eighth Year of the Harrows, 1876; With an Account of Mappers, Bounty Hunters, a Tatar, and the Science of Phrenology.

How can you not love that? Here’s the gist:

Set in post-apocalyptic 1876, THE BROKEN COUNTRY tracks the scabrous exploits of the outlaws Cyrus and Galina Van. The pair kidnaps a naïve, young scion and head west in pursuit of gold, glory, and respect. Along the trail they met Atlante Ames, a mapper who euthanized her own father and now seeks her twin brother, himself gone outlaw in the ravaged West. In cold pursuit rides the implacable bounty hunter Hal, who takes scalps in the name of Jesus Christ and the science of phrenology, and the contemplative Buddhist assassin Qa’un, paying off the bloodprice he owes Hal … bounty by bloody bounty. Cyrus and Galina’s hard road west comes to a head in a dynamite-tossing, six-gun-blazing shootout at the old train depot in Laramie.

And here’s his piece about the firearms he’s deemed best fit for a post-apocalyptic western novel. Enjoy!


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Compound Bows vs. Crossbows: Which is Better for Fiction Writing?

Crossbows in fiction experienced a bit of a renaissance with the popularity of The Walking Dead and Daryl Dixon. But are they really any better than compound bows? This guest blog from Tomaz Rodica, of ArcherStop, compares the two. Be sure to let me know your opinion in the comments. Enjoy!


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Symbolism and Weapons in YA/Children’s Stories

young adult fiction writing tips weapons

This guest post comes from Megan Robin, someone I first met at the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference. I’m glad I did, because not only is she a terrifically talented writer, she pitches blog posts about weapons in children’s stories. What’s not to like about that? Enjoy!

~Ben Continue reading

In Defense of Small Pistols in Fiction

Kel Tec P32

Mouse guns are small handguns that are easy to conceal, but hard to use accurately. While exact definitions can vary, they are generally considered to be the smallest handguns that still retain practical value. This .32 caliber Kel Tec would qualify as a mouse gun.
By James Case from Philadelphia, Mississippi, U.S.A. (Kel Tec P32 .32) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve defended the use of small pistols, aka “mouse guns,” in fiction before, and it appears I’m not the only one with the belief that getting shot sucks no matter the caliber. Michael Connick, who recently contributed a great piece about everyday carry setups, is here to back me up. Enjoy!

~Ben Continue reading