Afternoon, Spider Rock © Robert Sommers 2023

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Gumshoes and dames

My pals know that I love pulp fiction. The real pulp fiction. I am half way through a fabulous compendium, Otto Penzler's 2007 epic The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. This very thick book has stories mostly pulled from detective magazines of the twenties and thirties. Magazines like The Black Mask that became wildly popular after World War I.

These serialized stories exploded exponentially in the thirties, Penzler says over 500 titles a month and the quality of writing ranges from moribund to brilliant. This volume contains stories from some of the most talented known and forgotten masters of the genre. People like Carroll John Daly, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis and Erle Stanley Gardner, who hailed from our area.

What is interesting to me is that the protagonists range from saintly do-gooders to anti hero villains. Good guys are typically characters with good anglo saxon names, italians, jews and europeans usually wear the black hats. Shamus's, tough guys and cops intent on bringing a little law and order to River City.

One of my favorite characters is the jewish shyster lawyer, Hymie Croker in Leslie T. White's The City of Hell. Sometimes the animus is barely hidden at all, the hero is protecting good old america from the nasty immigrants here to steal away the american dream.  Some of the protagonists operate on the other side of the law, going after crooked politicians, evil bankers and short sellers and sharing the booty with the poor and the soup kitchens like modern day Robin Hoods. Penzler explains that the readership of this genre was decidedly populist and anti authoritarian while the country was undergoing the Great Depression.

Other memorable stories are the first Philip Marlowe mystery by Raymond Chandler, Red Wind, Carroll John Daly's The Third Murderer and Erle Stanley Gardner's great bad guy hero Lester Leith in The Monkey Murder, published in the January 1939 issue of Detective Story. Over 70 Leith novellettes were written by Gardner.

The reader is introduced to several Gardner characters whose output challenged his most famous creation, Perry Mason, of whom 80 books were written. Ken Corning, another defense attorney, Ed Jenkins, The Phantom Crook, the Patent Leather Kid and Senor Arñaz de Lobo, a soldier of fortune. Gardner was, at the time of his death, the most widely read writer in the world. An attorney, he would extemporaneously dictate novels to his secretaries in nothing flat.

Kerry is always accusing me of writing like a bad gumshoe novelist and wanting to be Mickey Spillane. He is probably right. I love the depression era writing and the patter of the day. Faces are maps, grenades are pineapples, the patois is vivid and colorful. Probably the same reason I love Bogart, Raft, Edward G. and Cagney. I watched Legs Diamond as a kid and I was hooked.

Find this book at the library like I did and give it a whirl.

1 comment:

grumpy said...

i put Ross McDonald right up there with Chandler.