Monday, October 26, 2015

Charles Beckman (1920-2015)

I just heard from James Reasoner that Charles Beckman died two weeks ago. He was probably the last real pulp magazine writer alive - I can't think of anyone else, after Hugh B. Cave, Jack Williamson, Frank Kelly, Ray Bradbury, and Elmore Leonard have all passed away.

Beckman's career wasn't straight-forward. He wrote for the crime and western pulps, he wrote for the sleaze houses in the mid-to-late sixties, he wrote for the men's magazines, he wrote for the romance publishers with his wife, he also wrote some non-fiction on jazz - he was a jazz drummer first. Beckman's first published short story was "Strictly Poison" in Detective Tales, October 1945.

Beckman got active just before the end, compiling two collections of his old pulp tales: Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers, and Saddles, Sixguns & Shootouts. I have the first one, but haven't had time to check into it. Note also the new biography Pulp Jazz available from CreateSpace. The book also seems to have a bibliography of Beckman's writing, but I thought I'd also include one myself, here at my bibliographic sidekick blog.

I also published Beckman myself. I put out a small booklet (see above) containing two of his stories, a noirish hardboiled pulp story "Die Dancing, Kid!" (Detective Tales, January 1947) and a more thoughtful "Class Reunion" (AHMM, June 1973). The first one was published originally in Finnish in a magazine called Seikkailujen Maailma (The World of Adventures) and the translator remains unknown. The latter one was translated by my friend Tapani Bagge and published in a short-lived crime fiction mag RikosPalat (CrimeBits) in the late eighties. Both were republished by permission from Mr. Beckman himself, with thanks to James Reasoner and Walker Martin!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interview on Women Crime Writers

Here's Cullen Callagher's nice interview with Sarah Weinman on her 2-volume anthology Women Crime Writers. Check it out, it's a very good interview with interesting points.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Book: Jack MacLane: Goodnight, Moom

I was lucky to find this almost ancient paperback from a junkyard sale at a comics book store here in Turku. Goodnight, Moom, published originally in 1989, is a cult item, cherished by few aficionados. And it deserves to be.

It's a sort of Frankenstein tale, set amongst the white trash of Texas. Victor Frankenstein of the book is Ed Leach, a car mechanic who abuses his wife and does nothing else but work at his garage and drink beer with his loser buddies. The monster of the book is his son, Harry, whom Ed throws against the wall when the kid is very small. Something happens to the baby and he grows up weird, not saying anything to anyone. He goes to school, but learns nothing. At one point, Harry tortures a kitten. Then he kills another child, a girl who's taken to liking him, since he's so quiet all the time. Ed decides to lock Harry up in the cellar. His mother, Harriette, takes care of the boy, but is afraid of him. And she should be... Harry breaks free and goes on a killing spree, repeating "moom" everytime full moon is up. Ed goes
after him, just like Victor Frankenstein does in Shelley's novel. It develops into a nasty mess, with Ed wanting to keep his son's misdeeds hidden.

Goodnight, Moom is a well-paced horror novel with a ghastly plot and ghastly details, but what's more important is that Jack MacLane can make Harry an interesting character, even though Harry can't speak and doesn't know any words for his strange emotions. You care for the sick, silent bastard. And you care for Harriette, his mother, and you even might care for Ed - you almost surely care for his loser buddies whom he takes with him to catch Harry.

Jack MacLane is really Bill Crider, the Texan writer, paperback collector and blogger. He used the pseudonym Jack MacLane in a string of horror books written for the now-defunct Zebra. The Texas landscape comes alive with many telling details about the wasted life of the small-town Texans. At times Crider goes into a tall-tale territory, like his friend Joe Lansdale also often does.

Goodnight, Moom is available as an e-book alongside the other Jack MacLanes Crider wrote.

One of the Jack MacLanes, Keepers of the Beast, was translated in Finnish in 1989 as Paholaisen opetuslapset in the short-lived horror series by the Viihdeviikarit publishers. There's a sheriff called Jay Reasoner in the book, but that's about all I remember from the book. Might be the time to reread it.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here or at Todd Mason's blog here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Jason Starr: Savage Lane

As I've said a hundred times before, Jason Starr is one of my all-time favourite writers: nasty, twisted, funny, fluent. He's very readable and catchy, yet there's nothing amiable about his book. At the same time you really care for his characters, they are not mere pawns in the game.

Starr's newest book Savage Lane marks his return to noir thriller and does it with a wicked punch. Starr treads the same ground as Gillian Flynn, but there's nothing to suggest he's just going after a trend. This is his territory, pure and simple. 

There's something different this time, however. Savage Lane is set in the healthy suburbs, not the seedy downtown and the facile city of his earlier novels. Savage Lane is about the not-so-healthy relationships born out of the shallowness of suburban life and the self-treachery of the people inhabiting the nice homes. Starr's stablemate, sociopathic liars, figure greatly in the novel, and Starr's use the unreliable narrator is matchless. The shifts in the narration and what they reveal about the characters is laugh-out-funny. The timing is perfect. Yet there's no crime almost halfway in. When it comes, it's almost a shock - and after we've gotten over it, we start to laugh. 

Savage Lane is actually a pretty savage book. It's Desperate Housewives meets Psycho. Megan Abbott is right saying: "Who but Jason Starr could render suburban vice pitch black, sneakily endearing and wickedly funny all at once? Like James M. Cain meets Tom Perrotta, Savage Lane shows, in grand style, how twisted the hearts of All-American families can be, and how those picket white fences can be dangerously sharp."

Read more about the book at the Polis Books site (they seem to be doing good work bringing out new noir and hardboiled thrillers, alongside the more traditional ones) and at LitReactor where Keith Rawson has some nice things to say about the book. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Gil Brewer: The Red Scarf

A Crest reprint
Gil Brewer was one of the best crime and noir paperbackers of the fifties and early sixties. I've read several of his novels in Finnish translation and liked them all. They are fast and plausible, and the protagonists have to overcome some heavy obstacles in their way.

Same goes for The Red Scarf (1958). It was published in hardcover by Mystery House, a cheap lending-library publisher that paid $300 for the book, after it was rejected by Brewer's usual publisher, Fawcett Gold Medal, and other paperback publishers. Still it's an outstanding book, one of Brewer's best, which is saying a lot. This is one of those books where your typical lower middle-class working person gets into a trouble, can't find his (or her) way out of it and just digs his hole deeper and deeper. In The Red Scarf the protagonist is a nice young man who runs a motel with his wife. They have no money and it seems there won't be the new highway that was promised when they bought the motel. Then a femme fatale comes in, with loads of money. It's just that the money belongs to the mob. (You'll find a longer description of the book at Mystery*File, by Bill Pronzini and Lynn Munroe.)

The Red Scarf is very well paced and tightly written little monster of a book. Before I read it, I was struggling with another book from the same era and thinking they must be all like this, but I was delighted to find Brewer's book just blew me away. I couldn't stop reading. The most important thing about this kind of a book is that it remains believable through the end - and the ending is not the most happy one.

By the way, Gil Brewer doesn't have a Wikipedia article! Quick, someone!

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Book: Old issues of Paperback Parade

Paperback Parade is (was?) a periodical magazine devoted to the study of old paperbacks and the culture surrounding them. It is (or was) published by Gary Lovisi, author and the head honcho of Gryphon Books. One could actually call it a fanzine, since there are lots of fannish elements in the magazine, such as a long letter column in the start of each issue. It's an interesting magazine, full of intriguing info and tit-bits on obscure authors. Some of the articles in Paperback Parade were the first ones to praise such now classic authors such as Peter Rabe and Bruno Fischer.

I've had six issues on loan from my friend Tapani Bagge for several years now, and taking a break from work, I decided to finally read them. I think I've read some of the articles earlier and used them in my books Pulpografia and Kuudestilaukeavat (Six-Guns). There's stuff in the articles that I don't recall reading, though, so it was good to go back to them anyway.

Popular Library reprint
Paperback Parades are a mixed bunch. Some of the articles are very well done and thorough, others are mere scratches, with bibliographical listings (they are sometimes pretty difficult to follow, but I know it's difficult to do a good bibliography). Some of the texts really don't tell much about the books themselves, as they deal more with dates, editions and cover illustrations. Same goes for the authors. There's a short review by Lovisi of a book called Shadow of a Hero by Allan Chase (Popular Library, 1951). We learn nothing about Allan Chase, we get only a synopsis of the book and a recommendation: "an exceptionally well-written book, hardboiled, fascinating - and a very plausible look at big-town politics." Maybe there wasn't much information on Chase available in 2001, when the issue #55 came out. (BTW, I'm wondering if this is our Chase.)

One thing kept sticking in my eye: Lovisi and other contributors often refer to paperback reprints of the earlier hardcover editions as if they are the true first editions. This happens for example in the interview with crime writer Henry Slesar, Lovisi seems to be more interested in the Zenith reprint of Slesar's crime novel The Gray Flannel Shroud than the fact it's not really paperback fiction. Luckily Slesar steers Lovisi on the right route and mentions the book came out first from Random House in hardcover. (The Zenith reprint has a great cover, though!) And Shadow of a Hero was also a reprint, hardcover coming out in 1949.

The Zenith reprint
But aside from this, it's an absolute delight to have interviews with writers such Peter Rabe, Bruno Fischer, Jonathan Latimer, William F. Nolan, A. S. "Sid" Fleischmann, Ted Gottfried (AKA Ted Mark, the writer of The Man from O.R.G.Y.) and Slesar. Also the British paperbacker and editor Laurence James is interviewed.

There's also a fascinating look at writing for lower markets in the interview with Morris Hershman. The interview with Peter Rabe by George Tuttle was very interesting and possibly one of the first instances where Rabe was taken seriously. Rabe mentions in the interview that he wrote some short stories in his later years, but didn't aim for publication. I started to wonder whether the manuscripts have survived and could be publishable. There's also Tuttle's essay on Rabe. By the way, Rabe mentions he really appreciated Donald Westlake's essay on Rabe in Murder Off the Rack, a very good book with ten essays on paperback crime writers. Get it if you don't already have it. Alongside Rabe there are also essays on Jonathan Latimer and W. R. Burnett. The interview with Bruno Fischer mentions his socialist affiliations (he was the editor of Socialist Call), but doesn't go further into the issue, I'd really like to hear more about this.

Some other points of interest: Graeme Flanagan's article on the Australian paperback series Marc Brody (though nothing I hadn't read before, must be noted that there probably wasn't much info on the Brody books before this), interviews with illustrators Gil Cohen and Bertil Hegland (the Swedish paperback artist), a look at Holloway House (containing lots of info, though it's a bit too fannish to my taste), an article on the Gold Eagle headquarters (they seem to be closing down, not sure if I knew this before). I also enjoyed Philip Harbottle's articles on British western paperbackers and how Harbottle got them back in print through Robert Hale's Black Horse imprint, though Harbottle doesn't really say much about what the books are about and what they are like and how they compare to their American counterparts. There's also some stuff on early Australian paperbacks I could use for an upcoming book I've been planning for years.

One of the more interesting articles in Paperback Parade (in the issues I have) is "Carny Cuties and Killers" by Kurt Brokaw (he must be same guy as the film critic of The Independent, he seems to be curating the course called "Killer Movies: Lost Films"). Though the article is a bit heavy on synopses, the article is full on information on books I hadn't earlier known about. Especially Edward Hoagland's first novel Cat Man (1956, in hardcover) seems very interesting.

Paperback Parade reminds me of my own magazine, called Pulp, that I published for several years (been dead for some years now). It was smaller in size (Paperback Parade is a sturdy, almost book-like object), but I do know the effort one has to make to this kind of thing possible and to happen. Some of the articles in Pulp were not very good or even interesting, but some of them have ended in some of my books (and some still will!). There are lots of articles and essays in Paperback Parade I'd like to see reprinted in an anthology!

The issues I had in chronological order:

# 19 (1990): Bruno Fischer, Gold Eagle
# 25 (1991): Peter Rabe, Gil Cohen, Marc Brody, Arthurian saga in paperbacks,
# 29 (1992): Jonathan Latimer, William F. Nolan, Ace Capelli (British house pseudonym)
# 45 (1996): Laurence James, W. R. Burnett, Morris Hershman
# 55 (2001): Sid Fleischmann, Bertil Hegland, Holloway House
# 56 (2001): Henry Slesar, Hank Janson, Carny Cuties, Ted Mark

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog!