Richard Ford’s Description of Noir

Posted in General Pulp with tags , , , on March 26, 2012 by gustravis

Reading Richard Ford (a non-pulp writer) in his pulp venture The Ultimate Good Luck, I particularly enjoyed this passage which serves as (one of) the great definitions of Noir.

“The guy who had it in for you was the guy you had never seen. The one you loved was the one you couldn’t be understood by. The one you paid to trust was the one you were sure would cut and run. The best you could think was maybe you’d get lucky, and come out with some skin left on.”

Dark Bahama

Posted in Peter Cheyney with tags , , , on November 5, 2011 by gustravis

Some good moments from Peter Cheyney’s Dark Bahama:

He had another look at the corpse. He thought it was rather a pity that a young man with such a long, slender, straight body should meet such a sticky end–literally sticky. Then he went back to the drinks wagon and poured himself another brandy and soda. He sat down in the armchair and waited. He thought it was nice that the drinks were free.

Isles said, “Nature always presents two faces. The more beautiful she is the more ruthless she is. Like women.”

Spy Pulp: Eric Ambler

Posted in Eric Ambler with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2011 by gustravis

Perhaps to call Eric Ambler a “pulp” writer is a stretch. But his work definitely contains pulp elements and what struck me most while reading his novel A Kind of Anger was not between the pages but what surrounded them on that delicious cover. Fontana books released a series of Ambler spy thrillers with a consistent theme in the cover design. These are definitely “pulp”.


James Ellroy: Brown’s Requiem

Posted in James Ellroy with tags , , , on October 6, 2011 by gustravis

There’s one scene in the Demon Dog’s first novel that will stick in my guts forever. When classical music junkie/private detective Fritz Brown goes down to Mexico to investigate his caddy/nazi/porn addict client, he encounters a group of post-hippies on the beach. He’s just come from a baptism of blood and a binge of booze. He eats dog with these long-haired free spirits and develops a crush on one big-bozoomed lady. She sees straight to peoples’ souls and knows he’s in trouble so she hangs with him in the sand. He wants to fuck but that’s not what she’s there for. She puts his face between her big fat tits and let’s him sleep and rest and recover between her breasts so that he can go back to L.A. and rid the world of some corrupt mother fuckers.

One thing Ellroy gets about pulp (and lots of writers don’t) is that there has to be a lady at the end; there is a light at the end of the tunnel with soft skin and a mouth to kiss. It doesn’t matter if the “him” of the story gets there or not. But it means shit if he’s not reaching for that destination.


Lady Detective

Posted in Ed McBain with tags , , , , on September 8, 2011 by gustravis

One good scene in Ed McBain’s The Gutter and the Grave (my latest Hard Case find) has drunk/bum detective Matt Cordell visit the apartment of a lady detective: Fran West. Busty and black-haired, she tells him she was a model first (not skinny enough to be a fashion model, so she posed for the porn mags) and claims she’s too stupid to have passed the cop exam, so she got a job working for a detective’s agency. Moments later, she lays down her rules. I think these are some mighty admirable rules for a lady:

“Rule one: never touch a drink before three in the afternoon. Rule two: never wear a girdle. Rule three: never invite a man up for a nightcap unless I plan to let him stay the night. Rule four: be a lady. Rule five: except when it’s impossible.”


Introduction to Lawrence Block

Posted in Lawrence Block with tags , , , , , , on September 3, 2011 by gustravis

My first impression of Lawrence Block wasn’t so good. He laid down a plot with an ending I could see coming a mile away. His detective Matthew Scudder was dense if I was five steps ahead of him. It was a book called A Time to Murder and Create: a good title, that’s why I picked it up.

So I gave up on Block for a while. But time wore me down on a second chance. This time I bought his first Scudder mystery, 8 Million Ways to Die: a better title. And from what I read for the first few chapters, a much better book. It was clean and fast. But then I got distracted.

Hard Case Crime covers are good for that, distracting attention. And the front of their reprint of The Girl with the Long Green Heart is no exception. I’m fifty pages into the paperback: I can feel the desperation, betrayal boiling under a clean surface ready to explode, the sucking sensation of an alright guy drawn into a mess he can’t get out of. So, I’m glad I gave Block a second and third try. Here’s a bit I just read that I liked very much.

You damn well have to know who’s working with you. When you’re all wrapped up in a big one you live a whole slew of lies all at once, and if you have a few people in it who are lying back and forth and conning each other as much as they’re conning the mooch, then you are looking for trouble and fairly certain of finding it. This doesn’t mean that good con men are inherently honest in their dealings among themselves. They aren’t. If they were honest, they woulnd’t have gone on the C to begin with. I expected Doug would lie to me, and I expected to lie to Doug, but not to the point where we’d be fouling each other up. If there were things I ought to know about him, I wanted to know them now. 

Travis Mills

David Goodis – Poet of the Damned

Posted in David Goodis with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2011 by gustravis

David Goodis – Poet of the Damned

All good writing is autobiographical someone once said. In general that’s true but I would have to qualify that by saying in some authors more than others. There is a kind of professional writing that is more about expertise, structure and craft than it is about self revelation. It isn’t easy to do and requires a lot of hard work to develop those skills. I respect those who can do it and do it well. But I love the kind of writer who can’t help but bare his/her soul everytime they sit down and put pen to paper. One such is the pulp noir writer David Goodis (1917-1967) best known for the novel Down There (1956) that was adapted by film director Francois Truffaut into the French New Wave classic Shoot the Piano Player (1960).


Now long before I knew anything about writing or literature especially the middle class hierarchy that placed original paperback novels on the bottom shelf of the literary woodpile I had been reading guys like Frederick Brown, Jim Thompson, Day Keene, Charles Willeford and Charles Williams not just as entertainments but as literature as well.  And later on when the teachers of various academic courses tried to tell me different I stubbornly held on to the notion that I was right and they were wrong. Not just wrong but foolishly and snobbishly so. And I still hold to that.


Lately I began reading Goodis again and now I’m more convinced than ever. He has been called “The poet of the down and outers”… “The spokesman of the losers”… “The Herald of the bad dream Bogarts” etc. All of those descriptions are wholly appropriate. Read any one of his novels and you’re not just immersed into his world of waterfronts and cheap whisky bars, you’re submerged into a no-exit zone of low lifes and disenchanteds whose only escape from the twilight world they live in is the crime they can get away with. His principal characters are drunks, sexy and frequently possessive women, and a whole herd of weak men in the service of heartless cruel ones.  They are works that for the most part rob us of our innocence and take us into the underbelly of society where alcohol and violence define the boundaries of existence.  It’s a world we don’t want to see or acknowledge but somehow can’t look away from. All thanks to Mr. Goodis. Someone had to speak for these lost souls and I as a reader am grateful that it’s him.


And as it turns out his writing reflected the life he lived. They reflect his world both inside and out. He was down and out in a way that George Orwell never experienced in either London or Paris. But damn could the man write.  Here’s a quickie from his novel Black Friday (1954).


     Frieda was a big woman. She was one sixty if she was an ounce, more solid than soft, packed into five feet five inches and molded majestically. He guessed she didn’t wear a girdle and when she turned her back to him and leaned over slightly he was certain of it…She bent over even further and her calves were the same as the rest of her, solid, round fat coming down rhythmically to slim ankles giving way to high heels that she hadn’t been wearing before.


From Cassidy’s Girl (1951)


     He was seeing the night -black hair of Mildred, the disordered shiny mass of heavy hair. He was seeing the brandy-colored eyes, long lashed, very long lashed. And the arrogant upturned curve of her gorgeous nose. He was trying with all his power to hate the sight of her full fruit-like lips, and the maddening display of her immense breasts, the way they swept out, aimed at him like weapons. He stood there looking at the woman to whom he had been married for almost four years, with whom he slept in the same bed every night, but what he saw was not a mate. He saw a harsh and biting and downright unbearable obsession.


Most of the books, the best ones anyway, are still available and I recommend them without hesitation. Some titles besides the ones already mentioned that you might want to look at include; Nightfall (1947), Street of No Return (1952) and The Burglar (1953). The Black Lizard editions come with a terrific introductory essay on his life by Geoffrey O’Brien.


Our literary heritage is considerably richer than we think but we sometimes don’t know it. The reason being that so many worthwhile writers fall through the cracks because of middle class/ academic elitism. David Goodis is one of them. It is now time to bring him out and into the light.


– GE.