Archive for the ‘Pulp Mysteries’ Category

PulpFictionI was listening to the rain coming streaming down as I was finishing Cheap Thrills: The Amazing! Thrilling! Astonishing! History of Pulp Fiction (also known as An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine) by Ron Goulart. It wasn’t the flash flood thunder storms that seem to be typical of this year. Rather it was the steady stream of rain, like it’s supposed to be. I love that sound. However, it is irrelevant to this post. It’s just an aside.

I’ve said this several times in this blog, there are two components to the pulp fiction of the 1920s to 1950s. One is the incredible writing and the other is the incredible artwork. While each of the two books mentioned here relay the history of pulp fiction, Cheap Thrills concentrates on the writing while The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines by Peter Haining concentrates on the artwork. They each also illustrate the copycat mentality of pulp publishers. If one type of pulp magazine is doing well, say hard boiled mystery, then every other pulp publisher attempted to copy the format. And if one is not doing well, publishers did not hesitate to abandon it for something else.The-Classic-Era-of-American-Pulp-Magazines-9781556523892

Cheap Thrills covers most of the genre types such as soldier of fortune, detective, science fiction, western, horror, concentrating on the major successes such as Tarzan, Doc Savage and the Shadow. Mention, however, is also made of some of the less successful attempts. Goulart also includes reminiscences from some of the writers, editors and publishers of the time.

Goulart, as does Haining, emphasizes that many of todays acclaimed writers started in pulps, such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and Dashiell Hammett. Goulart gives many examples of their writing, such as Walter Gibson writing The Shadow:

“Long Island Sound lay blanketed with a dense, sullen mist. From the shore, the heavy fog appeared as a grimy mass of solid blackness. The scene was one of swirling, impenetrable night, for not a gleam of light disturbed the omnipresent darkness.

No eye would have discerned the spot where the shore ceased and the water began. The rocks beside the beach were invisible, and so was the man who stood near them. The only token of his presence was the sound of his slow, steady breathing, broken by the low, impatient growls that came muffled from his throat.”

Great Writing!

Haining, on the other hand, provides tons of examples of both the interior black and white and exterior color artwork. I wish I could provide an example here but I haven’t really found any on the internet. He discusses the artists, their backgrounds and their techniques. He discusses the trend to mildly seductive scantily clad women on the covers, run-ins with the law regarding the illustrations and the reversal of that trend. Each artist had his/her own style—yes there were a handful of women in the field.

Haining, too, mentions the various genres and the related illustrations. One genre not really covered by Cheap Thrills but discussed in The Classic Era is Spicy pulps. There were Spicy Mysteries and Spicy Romance and Spicy Westerns. A little titillation for America’s male species of the era. Obviously, the cover art mimicked (to some extent) the stories inside.

To sum it up, I can’t get my fill of pulp era writing, primarily mysteries and cover art. The Classic Era and Cheap Thrills are great additions to any pulp aficionado’s collection.

My next pulp mystery? The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Let’s see how it compares to the movie with William Powell and Myrna Loi.


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Here’s what you learn when you read about pulp fiction:

1. The Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback who was the publisher of several science fiction pulp magazines. From the Hugo Award site itself:

Why are they called Hugos?

The Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, a famous magazine editor who did much to bring science fiction to a wider audience. Gernsback founded Amazing Stories, the first major American SF magazine, in 1926. He is widely credited with sparking a boom in interest in written SF. In addition to having the Hugo Awards named after him he has been recognized as the “Father of Magazine SF” and has a crater on the Moon named after him.

2. The illustrator, Earle Bergey was the ‘inventor of the brass brassiere’, as shown in the cover of Startling Stories.BrassBrassiere

3. You get to read this kind of prose: “Tony’s admiring eyes swept over the ivory columns of her legs and the gracious swell of her young hips.” These were written by Noel Barrow in his story His Midnight Moll as published in Snappy Detective Mysteries.

The-Classic-Era-of-American-Pulp-Magazines-9781556523892So, if you’d like to learn more about pulp fiction of the 1920s to 1950s, I highly recommend you read Classic Era of American Pulp Magazine. Who knows what interesting bits of trivia you might unearth.


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CircGirlsAs you all know, I’m a pulp fiction fan…especially the covers. So, when this website (http://simplebooklet.com/publish.php?wpKey=zwTY8mLCC3wV31ORtETcye#page=0) was sent to me, I was in heaven. Although, the covers here are basically for librarians, you don’t have to be one to appreciate them. Enjoy…or else!Fines








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NewMammothBookThere’s an image I get when people say pulp fiction (not the movie). It’s tough talking private dicks. It’s dark streets filled with potential danger. It’s tall, leggy blondes who pull gats out of their purses. There’s a tautness of language that allows you to picture exactly where the action takes places, down to the dry, desert wind or the dirty streets with danger in every doorway. As one website states, it’s “…the one-two punch of dialogue and the action…”

The two Otto Penzler Black Lizard Big Book anthologies BlackLizardof pulp mysteries take the best stories of the 1920s through 1950s and jam them into two 1,100 double columned paged books. These are the crème de la crème of pulp writing with top of the line authors such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Earle Stanley Gardner, Carroll John Daly and James M. Cain.

The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, originally compiled in 1996 and recently revised and reissued contains 33 stories ranging from 1929 to 1987, with most of them written in the 1950s. Unfortunately it doesn’t contain stories from top of the line pulp authors. As a result, the stories, though most of them are interesting and fun reading, don’t have that certain something that defines it as pulp fiction. They don’t have that darkness, the grittiness of, what in my mind, is a true pulp story. Jakubowsky should really have just called the book a collection of mystery stories but that, ovbiously, doesn’t have the same impact as saying pulp mystery.

Other things lacking in the book: there are no author bios so that you can get a feeling for the lives of the authors. Many of them had quite interesting lives. (These are included in the Penzler anthologies.) Additionally, there seems to be no rational order to the stories. Not alphabetical by title or author. Not chronological by date of issue. It seems totally random which makes it difficult to see how pulp fiction might have changed over the decades.

Because I was under a review deadline, I put together an Excel spreadsheet and ordered the stories chronologically and then read one from the beginning, one from the middle and one from the end of my list, so that if I couldn’t finish reading before deadline, I’d have a sampling from each time period. To be quite honest, I’m not sure if that made a difference.

I guess, like Jakubowsky, you could make the claim that pulp mysteries never left. They’ve always been around and have changed with the times. And that may be so. If that is the case, though, based on the stories in the New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction they’ve softened over the years. There’s nothing in the language to distinguish them. It’s not hard-driving. It’s not period driven. It’s bland. There is no  “…one-two punch of dialogue and … action…”

So, if you’re looking for an anthology of good mystery stories, then I’d certainly give the New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction a try. If you’re looking for great pulp mysteries, check out Otto Penzler’s anthologies.

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Just like a well designed plate of food enhances the taste of a meal, so too a well designed book HistoryOfMysterycover enhances the reading experience. In the 1700 and 1800s and even into the early 1900s book covers were considered decorations to be viewed. The Golden Age of book covers lasted from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, ending with the advent of book jackets and paperbacks. However, from a mystery book standpoint, the pulp mysteries published in the 1930s to 1950s have some of the best artwork imaginable, in my mind anyway. It may be considered ‘campy’ now, but it added a flavor to the book that would be missing otherwise.

The History of Mystery by Max Allan Collins, a mystery writer in his own right, combines the history of the ‘non-policeman’ detective with plentiful photos of book covers, movie tie-ins, TV show ads, etc. Divided into 10 sections, Collins covers the people who made mystery what it is: A. Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett. He covers female detectives (Kinsey Millhone, VI Warshawski) and TV detectives, reminding me of some of my favorite shows such as Mannix, Spenser for Hire, Honey West, the Rockford Files.

There’s a lot of interesting trivia (I never new there was an Ed McBain detective magazine) and a lot name dropping of many people who might be unfamiliar to mystery readers but were influential in the field, such as Roy Huggins who created a number of wonderful TV shows including 77 Sunset Strip.

Collins must think like me–that the presentation is an important part of the package. The glossy pages, some with a colored background, the full color photos of book covers, the portraits of mystery greats all add up to a great reading experience. The History of Mystery is an easy to read, eye-catching history of one of the great genres.

As I said in the beginning, this book doesn’t cover policemen so don’t expect to see Harry Bosch or the 87th Precinct mentioned here. Maybe that’ll be Collins’ next book…hint, hint.

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Where would you expect to read such words as tatterdemalion, amanuensis and gymnosophist? I expect you’ll say in some great modern literary work. If so, I expect you’ll be wrong because such words were in the first story in the anthology Hard-BoiledDetectiveHard-Boiled Detective:s 23 Great Stories from Dime Detective Magazine. The story, Hell’s Paycheck by Frederick Nebel contains all three words. And, if you’re not quite up on these highfalutin words, here are the definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Tatterdemalion: a person dressed in ragged clothing

Amanuensis: one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript

Gymnosophist: any of a sect of ascetics in ancient India who went naked and practiced meditation

Who said the pulp mysteries of the 1920s through 1940s were poorly written? So learn a few esoteric words–read pulp mysteries.

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GildaSo, the other night I watched the noir movie Gilda with Rita Hayworth and a very young Glenn Ford. It was one of the movies mentioned in the book Dani Noir (https://2headstogether.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/dani-noir-by-nova-ren-suma-2/) by Nova Ren Suma. I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Rita Hayworth movie. I could definitely watch more. And Glenn Ford was so young in it. They were both excellent and the on-screen chemistry was palpable. If Rita Hayworth isn’t the ultimate femme fatale, then no one is.

The movie definitely had that ‘noir’ feel to it from the dark, foggy Argentinian dockside beginning to the very end. However, the ending wasn’t noir-ish. I read another review which basically said the same thing–it called the ending a cop-out. I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to see if the movie ending was changed from the original story by E. A. Ellington.

If you are a noir movie fan, a pulp mystery fan, or merely a movie fan, Gilda is one movie that you should see. I’m contemplating adding it to my meager collection, that’s how good it is. Thank you Nova Ren Suma and Dani Noir for putting me on to these classics.

I watched The Postman Always Rings Twice (original great book by J. M. Cain) last night. It stars Lana Turner and John Garfield. ThePostmanUnlike Gilda, the movie setting isn’t dark, although the story is. The ending, however, is as noir-ish as you can get. Amazing. The only thing is: Lana Turner as a blonde doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t know why. As femme fatales go, Rita Hayworth beat her hands down. This is another great movie.

The next on my list is The Lady from Shanghai starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.

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Kat Rosenfield, author of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone (a great book, by the way) spoke AmeliaAnneto a group of YA librarians the other day (https://2headstogether.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/2-short-ones-from-two-heads-together/). Amelia Anne was her debut novel and although it’s been up for some awards, such as the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, I’d still consider Ms. Rosenfield an ‘under the radar’ author. So, I asked her for some other under the radar authors and she recommended Nova Ren Suma, describing her as ‘literary’. Ms. Suma has written four books one of which is housed in our children’s area and the rest in Young Adult.

DaniNoirI started with her debut novel Dani Noir, the children’s book and will read them in order of publication. Although I probably wouldn’t classify it as ‘literary’, it was certainly well written and totally enjoyable. Danielle (Dani) Callanzano’s life is in turmoil. Her parents are recently divorced (after her father cheated on her mother). Her father is remarrying. Her mother is constantly crying and Dani can’t forgive her father.  She’s spending her summer at the Little Arts Theater in upstate Shanosha, NY watching Noir movies and envisioning her life as movie scenes, with Rita Hayworth as the femme fatale. Dani definitely has trust issues…if her father lied to her, who else is lying to her.

When Dani sees a girl with polka dot leggings leaving the theater projection booth (manned by Jackson, who is Dani’s friend Elissa’s boyfriend) Dani goes into noir mystery mode, trying to find out what the story is. Along the way, she learns a few things about herself, about friends, life and love.

Now, if you’ve learned anything about me from reading this blog it’s that I’m totally into pulp mysteries. (I found a few more anthologies to add to my collection. Some people, Susan, might call me obsessed.) And guess what…some of those pulp era mysteries (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Laura, The Postman Always Rings Twice) have been made into some of the best movies. So, not only did I read a fun book, but I came away with a list of 17 Noir movies I need to watch. (I’m starting out with Gilda (with Rita Hayworth) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (with Lana Turner). If these stars don’t qualify as femme fatales, I don’t know who would.)

I am totally looking forward to reading Ms. Suma’s second book, Imaginary Girls.

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LongGoodbyeI told Susan the other day that I liked Dashiell Hammett as a writer better than Raymond Chandler. But that was before I read The Long Goodbye. Yikes, was that good! Unlike the Maltese Falcon by Hammett which has three film versions which I wanted to watch, The Long Goodbye has two, one with DIck Powell and one with Elliot Gould as Marlowe. Neither actor is Marlowe, as far as I’m concerned, so no watching the movie for me. But that’s way off topic.

I really don’t want to go into the plot too much. It’s much better if you read it cold. But Marlowe, a ‘cheapie’ according to one gangster is hobnobbing with the rich set and of course gets into trouble, beaten up once or twice, etc. It also shows Marlowe’s ‘romantic’, ‘justice for all’ side. Once Marlowe is on your side, you’ve got a true friend.

There are so many passages I want to quote. Every page has one. Unlike modern authors’ descriptions of people (designer label, etc.) Chandler has a knack. So I’ll quote from the first page. “There was a girl beside him. Her hair was a lovely shade of dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.” What writing!!!!!

Chandler seemed to use the book as an oratory on the ills of the world from crime to big business to dishonest politicians to drugs. It’s funny how nothing has changed since 1953.

As I’ve continued reading pulp mysteries (1953 was towards the end of the pulps), I more and more realize that there are no more ‘hard-boiled dicks’. They died with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and some of the other pulp detectives. Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Parker’s Spenser and McBain’s Steve Carella may aspire to such status but the writing style and thus the heroes have gone by the wayside. Quite the shame. But, hey, I haven’t exhausted the pulp genre and I understand that The Mysterious Bookshop will be issuing some reprints and there’s an unreleased Hammett book (The Hunter and Other Stories) coming out in the Fall. So, I’ll still have plenty to read.

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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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