Wednesday 11 July 2007

"I don't like drunks in the first place and in the second place I don't like them getting drunk in here..."

Saw it in the bookstore, had to have it (published march 2007). When I went through a period of obsession with the American 'hardboiled' school of crime fiction, thirty years ago, it tended to boil down to three important writers; Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner. In the way of things now, there is a greater sharing of the loot, and all those fellows who were given the bum's rush before, now get invited back in. Fourteen writers are represented by one story each, including all members of the well known triumvirat above. There are 512 pages and the original publication dates range between 1926 (Hammett) and 1942 (Woolrich).
Carroll John Daly was apparently a big name in his time but fell by the wayside. (article: In Defense of Carroll John Daly) Now I get to take the measure of his original reputation. His story in here, retitled from its original 'The Flame and Race Williams' for some unstated reason, is the longest in the book at 140 pages, and was agreeable enough as these things go. It should be said of course, that it is probably necessary to approach most of the stories in this book, if not with a driver of academic enquiry, at least with a back seat passenger of historical curiosity.
Cornell Woolrich had always been hinted at as a possible great. So many of his things made great movies, and Hollywood ain't finshed (e.g.Banderas and Jolie in Original Sin (1947 book)). His story in here is one of the memorable ones, a peculiar manipulation of fate that depends quirkily upon coincidence at exactly the point when the writing manuals tell us to avoid it, and I like it for that very reason, and others of course.
Paul Cain is a writer I had never read before and his short piece in here impressed me. It opens the book:

I'd been in Los Angeles waiting for this Healey to show for nearly a week. According to my steer, he'd taken a railroad company in Quebec for somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and fifty grand on a swarm of juggled options or something. That's a nice neighborhood.
My information said further that he was headed west and that he dearly loved to play cards. I do, too.
I'll take three off the top, please.
I missed him by about two hours in Chicago and spent the day going around to all the ticket-offices, getting chummy with agents, finally found out Healy had bought a ticket to LA, so I fanned on out there and cooled.

Raymond Chandler is represented by Red Wind. With Chandler you always feel that you're getting more than just prose, and I'm not just referring to his use of language. I often sense of poetic mystery in Chandler. This story is a mystery whose solution I had to strain to grasp, and having been grasped, I found myself explaining it to a friend, finding that my grasp of it was only temporary. Here's a great chandlerism from the second page:

The kid said:' I don't like drunks in the first place and in the second place I don't like them getting drunk in here, and in the third place I don't like them in the first place.

Almost all of the stories appeared originally in the celebrated pulp magazine Black Mask, the scholarship of which has lately acquired a significant online presence.

And of course we lament the fading of the Pulp mags. Nothing lasts forever. They gave way to the modern paperback, which must be understood as more than just a change of format. This article is informative: Raymond Chandler and the Mass Market: The Effects of the Paperback Revolution on Professional Authorship in America.

Regarding my interest in the crime story, the piece I spoke of in my post of 3 feb can be seen in the new Deevee which goes on sale today.

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Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

You know, I hate to keep bringing it up, but the vampire Lestat is a big fan of Black Mask magazine, and it shows in his (well, Anne Rice's) writing. Are you going to have copies of that Deevee at the Top Shelf table with you?

11 July 2007 at 01:57:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

Years ago, a friend showed me a photograph of a big newsstand in New York, circa 1930s. Photo was of a long magazine rack, shelves running the length of the place, about six feet high. It was packed with pulps. Hundreds of titles. Everything you could imagine.

By the early 1960s, Americans had largely stopped reading and the pulps were all but history. ( I've read that one reason Philip K. Dick stopped writing short stories and started writing novels was that the markets he had enjoyed selling to in the 1950s had vanished and he couldn't make a living at the short story game anymore.)

11 July 2007 at 06:21:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yike, I'm haunted by Philip K Dick today! Posted about his book covers last night, open up Boingboing this morning and see one of the covers I'd chosen mentioned there then find the comment above.

Anyway, was going to mention James M Cain and Jim Thompson as hardboiled writers (second generation?) worth checking out. And for the book cover art, there's the BookScans Database:

11 July 2007 at 06:42:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


yes , James M. Cain.
at some point in my contemplation of the post I almost had him in it. I have his "The Butterfly" with his preface in which he goes to enormous lengths to disssociate himself from the hardboiled school:
"Schools don't help the novelist, but thy do help the critic; using as mucilage the simplfications that the school hypothesis affords him, he can paste labels wherever convenience is served by pasting labels, and although I have read less than twenty pages of mr Dashiell Hammett in my whole life, Mr Clifton Fadiman can refer to my hammett-and-tongs style and make things easy for himself." etc. etc... (not the original printing, but writ 1947.)

11 July 2007 at 07:16:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm sorry to lower the tone of your great site but...

lee paul c

11 July 2007 at 08:02:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Might have to cut and past..don't forget to read the comments

11 July 2007 at 08:04:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

Not related to this topic, but have you seen this, Mr. Campbell?

11 July 2007 at 22:14:00 GMT-5  

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