Archive for June, 2010

Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Posted in Dashiell Hammett with tags , on June 27, 2010 by gustravis

Dashiell Hammett

Hammett is probably the best.  I say probably and mean most definitely.  He only wrote five novels, the son of a bitch.  He drank a lot and cared more for that than anything else.  He also liked prostitutes quite a bit, black ones and oriental ones. This was said about him: his “behaviour could be accounted for only by an assumption that he had no expectation of being alive much beyond Thursday.”

What he brought to pulp was the first-hand knowledge of a detective.  He worked for Pinkerton before he wrote; he knew the ins and outs of the worlds he created.  He also perfected a style: terse, vivid but lean.  It’s like Hemingway’s but without the feeling of “art”.  It is pure damn storytelling.

The Dain Curse

The Dain Curse is a crazy novel.  I wouldn’t ever put a first-time Hammett reader onto this one.  He goes everywhere with this one.

First, he’s got his Continental Op character from Red Harvest.  Through a staggering mystery, he comes up against stolen jewels, a girl with weird pointed ears, rival sisters, a religious cult, phantoms, a French ex-con, warring back-country police officials, morphine-addictions, homemade bombs, and the title “curse” to spin it all together.  Somehow he does it.  I don’t know how the hell he does and I don’t even care to try an’ tell you.

Here is a quote from the book.  It not only serves the novel’s tone but explains the hard-boiled detective, his perspective, his purpose and position in most pulp novels.

“It sounds normal as hell to me.  Nobody thinks clearly, no matter what they pretend.  Thinking’s a dizzy business, a matter of catching as many of those foggy glimpses as you can and fitting them together the best you can.  That’s why people hang on so tight to their beliefs and opinions; because, compared to the haphazard way in which they’re arrived, even the goofiest opinion seems wonderfully clear, sane, and self-evident.  And if you let it get away from you, then you’ve got to dive back into that foggy muddle to wrangle yourself out another to take its place.”

Pulp Fiction by Gus Edwards

Posted in Uncategorized on June 22, 2010 by gustravis

Pulp Fiction ( the literary term)

by friend and writer Gus Edwards

“Pulp fiction” this phrase or term has become so corrupted and misused that it effectively has no meaning whatsoever except as a general description for virtually every kind of crime fiction published.  Much of this misunderstanding comes from Quentin Tarrantino’s wonderful and very popular film which used the phrase as its title leading nearly everyone to assume that the film’s content ( which was closer to “criminal existentialist angst”)was in fact an example of the classic pulp fiction. It wasn’t.

The term originated in the late 1920s and 1930s as a way of describing the kind of crime / detective stories that were being published on pulp, a kind of paper that could be manufactured quickly and sold cheaply. Many of the magazines that used this kind of paper had names like Black Mask and Detective Stories. The fiction they published was the tabloid type crime stories that reflected the kind of criminal activity that was taking place in the society at that time.  But the writers quickly began transcending the topicality of their subjects and started creating a type of crime fiction that featured desperate characters engaged in felonious activities that would result in murder for profit or romantic/sexual conquest. These were shadowy people doing things in equally shadowy places.  And the detectives who pursued them were equally shadowy characters who had to immerse themselves deep into the muck in order to capture the perpetrators.  The writing was tight, with economically written descriptive passages and sharp, punchy dialogue that made the characters come vividly alive.  A special form of literature evolved from the hundreds of pulp stories and novels that were published and a sort of sub-genre was created: that genre was called Noir.

Pulp fiction is a wonderful, rich form of crime writing that is still being practiced today.  But to preserve its character and integrity as a literary form, we must appreciate and sustain the singularity of its definition and not let it devolve into the general morass of all crime fiction that is published.

James Ellroy: Clandestine

Posted in James Ellroy with tags , , , on June 21, 2010 by gustravis

The opening line of James Ellroy’s Clandestine:

“During the dark, cold winter of 1951 I worked Wilshire Patrol, played a lot of golf, and sought out the company of lonely women for one-night stands.”

Ellroy is the only writer included in these journals yet who is still alive.  I like him.  He calls Dashiell Hammett one of the best writers ever.  He thinks Raymond Chandler is a pussy.  He’s a peeping tom, a pervert, a dog-lover, a pulp-writer.

More to come from his 1982 novel Clandestine as I discover it.

Peter Cheyney: This Man is Dangerous

Posted in Peter Cheyney with tags , , , , on June 21, 2010 by gustravis

Like I said the last time I wrote about Cheyney, he created a character named Lemmy Caution.  As Cheyney so often writes, this guy is “nobody’s business” and I don’t mean maybe.  I won’t stuff this up with a bunch of crap.   This Man is Dangerous is a hell of a book.

I’ll let it do its own talking:

“It was a hot night–one of them nights when every time you try to breathe you wonder where you’re gonna get the air from.”

“I learn that I can still be caught on a bad market, because this jane has got a vest-pocket automatic in her handbag and she shoots through the bottom of it.  She gets me… My wrist drops, an’ before you could say sap the four guys at the table are on top of me.  They give me the works.  By the time this bunch have done with me I’m feeling like a communist demonstration in New York when the coppers are bad-tempered.  What those guys do to me is nobody’s business.”

Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution

“… There would be durn little crime if it wasn’t for women like Connie… I once read in some magazine that crime costs the American people four million dollars a year, an’ I reckon if somebody had dipped Constance in a bucket of cold water five minutes after she was born that maybe the U.S. taxpayers would have saved one million, which shows you that I think this dame is pretty good.”

“I’ll raise every hoodlum in New York an’ I’ll go after that yellow thug an’ I’ll shoot seventeen different kinds of hell outa him, that is if I don’t decide to burn him alive or something.”

Peter Cheyney

Cornell Woolrich: Grave for the Living

Posted in Cornell Woolrich with tags , , , , on June 12, 2010 by gustravis

The man behind Alfred Hithcock’s Rear Window.  This guy was a weird one.  He liked men.  He had an amputated leg, apparently from an untreated shoe that was too tight on his foot.  He lived with his mother, a recluse from the world, but his stories reek from an underworld, both physical and mental.

From this collection of Cornell shorts comes Grave for the Living.  It plays like a 1930’s Edgar Allan Poe tale and sets up a sort of paranoia that has since become common throughout major pop culture works like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Fight Club.

Let me catch you up a bit.  The story’s about a guy who’s afraid of being buried alive.  He’s this way because of his father, see?  His dad was buried alive and it kind’ve shook him up if you know what I mean.  So he’s afraid and he goes around to funerals and disrupts them to make sure no one’s being buried alive.

At one of these funerals, he meets a nice girl.  She shows him how to live normal.  He tries it on for size but chance steps in when he discovers on a casual trip through the country a farm where a secret society buries people alive.  He’s saved only from these lunatics when they discover his strange connection to this practice through his father’s death.  He’s threatened to keep quiet and of course he can’t.

When he tries to go to the cops, well, they’re a part of this secret society too.  Turns out there’s someone everywhere he goes who is and soon enough he’s fighting with no hope for he and his girl’s lives.

That’s what I mean about paranoia.  A little far fetched?  Sure.  So is a black cat and a pit with a pendulum comin’ to get you and the red death and that sort of thing, but hell if it’s not good writing.

This is a cover for the kind of magazine Woolrich was published in.

Ed McBain: The Killer’s Wedge

Posted in Ed McBain with tags , , , , on June 5, 2010 by gustravis

Ed McBain

Pseudonym for deceased Evan Hunter, writer of inner-city-teacher-novel-turned-Glenn Ford-classic film-Blackboard Jungle, McBain extensively explored the police procedural in his 54-novel series, The 87th Precinct.  Book after book through his police characters, McBain captures the camaraderie of men at work, the balance of professionalism up against family and romance, and the constant barrage of crime on city streets.

Since these are crime novels, they aren’t taken seriously.  But I beg anyone to question why the breath of this series should not be looked at with the same intensity and admiration as Balzac and his similar endeavor.

The Killer’s Wedge

McBain’s usual top-cop, Steve Carella is out of the action for this one, but he’s still the center.  Here’s the set-up: A woman walks into the detective division of the precinct.  She says she wants to see Carella.  The three detectives there say he isn’t around, she’ll have to wait.  She won’t go to the waiting room.  They get tough.  She pulls a gun.  They get tougher.  She pulls out a bottle of nitroglycerin.  If she shoots the bottle, if she even drops it, the whole place will go up.  She wants to kill Carella and she’ll wait there till he shows.

Oh, and Carella’s deaf-mute, pregnant wife Teddy is going to come to the precinct to meet him.  Neither her nor her husband know what danger awaits.

What elevates this, like the most successful of McBain’s series, is the relationships between the cops.  A Detective Hawes faces off against his boss Byrnes.  They are both hostages of this mad woman.  They both care about Steve Carella.  They both also care about the other men around them, their own lives, and most of all, they both want to stop her.  Hawes wants to take the chance, he wants to knock her down and hope there’s just water in the bottle.  Byrnes can’t take the chance.  He wonders, if for his own good and the good of his men, can he let this woman kill Carella.

What do professional men do in times of danger?  This is the kind of pulp story McBain tells so well.

Richard Stark: The Outfit

Posted in Richard Stark with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2010 by gustravis

“Die some place else.”

That’s what Parker says.  Parker is Richard Stark’s creation.  Richard Stark is Donald E. Westlake’s creation.  But Richard Stark is Richard Stark, a man on his own.  He may not have bones but he has words and those words cut, they punch, they make blood happen.

Parker is a thief.  He wants money from the mob because they owe it to him.  They won’t let it go at that so in The Outfit, Stark’s second Parker novel, he has to follow the mobsters all the way to the top and settle the score.

No one writes like Stark.  I mean no one.

Artwork from the soundtrack of the film adaptation of Stark’s novel, the best ever, directed by John Flynn, starring Robert Duvall.