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They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross was recommended reading in the back of another pulp mystery book I read. 172 James Ross The Don't Dance Much (Abridged) Signet 052Of course I had to get it. It’s a brooding mystery in the vein of the Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. It’s sparsely written, a lean first-person narrative by James rossabout getting rich quick and murder. Taking place in the south and originally published in 1940, it is filled with what we would call ‘not politically correct’ language and actions of Blacks, so if you’re a PC person, easily offended, I’d say, stay away. However, having grown up in the locale of this book, I’m sure Ross got it right for the times.

Ross’ only novel was apparently well received when published. For instance, Raymond Chandler said, “A sleazy, corrupt but completely believable story of a North Carolina town.” Hey, any book that is set around a North Carolina roadhouse, that features characters with names like Smut Milligan, Catfish Wall, and Badeye Honeycutt and includes moonshining, card and dice games, love triangles around the shapely Lola, bare knuckles brawling, and such figure in regularly, can’t be all bad.

An example of Ross’ writing, describing the luscious Lola one hot day, “She sat down at the counter and I got on the stool back of the cash register. Lola stretched her hands over her head and leaned back. If she had on a brassiere that day it must have already slipped down around her waist.” You can feel the swampy heat in the summer and the shivering cold in the winter. You can see the wheels spinning in Smut’s brain as he tries to scheme. You feel the hopelessness in the characters. I’m sorry, you don’t read writing like this anymore.

Ross has been credited as having invented ‘southern or country noir’. According to the article linked below, Ross stated that he never read James M. Cain before writing They Don’t Dance Much, but the style of writing and the bleakness of the story ring of Cain.

For more information on Ross and his writing, click on the following essay by Anthony Hatcher in the Oxford American: The Southern Magazine of Good Writing. Pulp mystery writing in the 1930s through 1950s is as varied can be. They Don’t Dance Much is another prime example of gritty writing.

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