Tag: Mickey Spillane

Guest Post: Brief Overview of Pulp Fiction – Part 3 (1960’s-1980’s)

Posted December 9, 2012 by Guest Post in Guest Posts, Literature, Pulp / 0 Comments

It’s a terribly clichéd expression to use as a title for this chapter I know but when looking at the evolution of hard-boiled and noir fiction it’s hard not to take in to consideration the fact that socially and politically America was in turmoil like never before.

In part two we acknowledged that the bleak outlook adopted by the second generation of noir authors, such as Jim Thompson, was a reflection of societal fears regarding Communism and nuclear war as they moved away from the prohibition era writing of Hammett and Chandler but as the 60s came around the audience for these books found themselves disconnected from the next generation who had radical ideas for changing the world.

The growth in popularity of television, the baby boomers, the Vietnam war, a President assassinated and that guy Nixon are just some of the major changes in American culture which saw the market for the bleakest noir fiction dwindle in size.

First there was the closure of several paperback original imprints whilst the ones that remained tended to focus on recurring characters rather than taking chances on original pulp work, then there was the splintering of the world of noir as it suddenly became a more diverse place. From the 70s onwards we’ve been treated to books about serial killers, forensics experts, hardened cops working within the departmental structure, and the redemption of the lone wolf. Not to mention females, homosexuals, non-whites and just about everything a writer desperate to stand out from the crowd could think of in between.

As mentioned previously several of the second generation of hard-boiled and noir writers kept writing after the death of the paperback original. Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer were perfectly suited to repeat adventures throughout the 60s and 70s (Blue Hammer the 18th Archer in ‘76 and Black Alley the final real Hammer in ’96) and sat alongside the newcomers as wisened old heads ready to guide the next generation.

One of the most important names in the history of the genre is Lawrence Block, he got started writing short stories during the heady days of the paperback originals (some of which are collected in the highly enjoyable Lost Weekends and One Night Stands) and had his first novels published in the early 60s. Amongst his mixed bag of early work the superb and disturbing Mona AKA Grifter’s Game (1961) has the distinction of being the first novel republished by the excellent Hard Case Crime imprint. He is a man that appears to have adapted quite readily to the need for recurring protagonists with no fewer than six different series created by him since the mid 60s. The Sins of the Fathers (1976) marks the debut of perhaps his most popular character, Matt Scudder.

Swedish born American Donald Hamilton is someone that isn’t so readily known in the 21st century but his character Matt Helm was created for Gold Medal Books in Death of a Citizen (1960) and ran for 27 books until The Damagers (1993.) Helm is a no-nonsense kind of guy, working as an undercover counter-terrorist agent he narrates his escapades with a detached, dead pan style include the many fights, torture sequences and sexual conquests.

“Donald Hamilton has brought to the spy novel the authentic hard realism of Dashiell Hammett; and his stories are as compelling, and probably as close to the sordid truth of espionage, as any now being told.”

Donald Westlake was an incredibly prolific author in the genre who used many pseudonyms to divide up his different work. His most famous being Richard Stark, creator of the hard-boiled Parker, a ruthless master thief willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Parker first appeared in The Hunter (1962) and went on to star in a further 23 novels until Dirty Money (2008).

The Deep Blue Good-Bye (1964) marked the debut of hard-boiled detective Travis McGee. His creator John D. MacDonald would write one book per year until The Lonely Silver Rain (1985) brought the sequence to a close after 21 adventures. McGee is known for being a misogynist, a character that has dated quite badly and can easily offend some readers. MacDonald has an easygoing approach to the series, his detective lives on a houseboat and would prefer to lounge around drinking to solving crimes, that belies the intricate plotting he uses and misogyny aside this is a great series of third generation hard-boiled fiction.

Robert B. Parker wrote his Ph.D dissertation on Hammett, Chandler and Ross MacDonald and went on to create his own legendary private eye, Spenser in The Godwulf Manuscript (1973). Parker is known for his modern approach to the classics of the genre and including series characters from minority backgrounds as more than just punchbags for his protagonist. Sixkill (2011) was the 40th Spenser outing and was the last novel he finished before his death, making Spenser The Rolling Stones of hard-boiled fiction.

Joseph Hansen is best known for his ground breaking series of crime novels starring his most iconic creation, Dave Brandstetter, an openly gay insurance investigator who still embodied the tough, no-nonsense personality of the classic hardboiled private investigator type of protagonist. His first outing was Fadeout (1970) and he went on to appear in eleven more novels until A Country of Old Men (1991).

James Crumley is a self-declared heir to the Chandler tradition, he defines his own sensibility as conditioned by the disillusionments of the Vietnam War and his vision of justice less clear-cut. His protagonists are environmentalists and sustained by eccentric alliances with criminals and other misfits. Described as the literary offspring of Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson he was another author who found success outside of America long before the Americans took to him. His book The Last Good Kiss (1978) features the alcoholic ex-army officer turned private detective, C.W. Sughrue, as it’s protagonist and has been labelled as the most important crime novel of the last 50 years, influencing much of what will be described as the fourth generation of hard-boiled and noir writing. The Mexican Tree Duck (1993) is the only one of his novels to be acknowledged with an award.

I’ll now break my own rules and mention briefly the British author Derek Raymond. In 1984 he wrote the first book in The Factory Series, He Died With His Eyes Open, a book that seems to have captured both the hard-boiled spirit of Chandler and the blackest, bleakest noir poetics of David Goodis in one wonderful novel. Whilst he wasn’t American he is the closest I have found to true hard-boiled and noir fiction outside of America and deserves to be read by all fans of the genre.

Part four will bring us right up to date with a quick look at some of the shining lights in contemporary American hard-boiled and noir fiction.

This is a guest post by blahblahblahtobyYou can find him discussing books on Goodreads, discussing movies on Letterboxd, tweeting nonsense as blahblahblahtoby and on his blog blahblahblahgay, feel free to say hi.

There are literally dozens of great authors and great novels that could have been suggested as essential reading for this guide. The writer of the article went through agonising decisions over who to leave out and is more than aware that your favourite author probably hasn’t been mentioned but feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

This post is part of a four post series exploring the history of Hard-Boiled and Noir Fiction, for recommendations check out each post;

The 1930’s – 1940’s

The 1950’s

The 1960’s – 1980’s

The 1990’s – Onward

 


Guest Post: Brief Overview of Pulp Fiction – Part 2 (1950’s)

Posted December 2, 2012 by Guest Post in Guest Posts, Literature, Pulp / 0 Comments

In part one we looked at the birth of the genre as a more realistic type of literature in reaction to the traditional whodunit from Britain. The cynical approach towards life of the protagonist summing up the attitude of the hard-boiled hero and how the worlds of noir novels are never happy places where things go right.

We looked at Hammett and Chandler and Cain, the three pillars of the style that all who followed evolved from. Now we move on to the second generation of hard-boiled men who took advantage of a new publishing idea and the post WWII atmosphere of paranoia and fear.

Fawcett publications created the Gold Medal Books imprint in 1949 with the idea of publishing pulp novels directly to paperback formats. Paperback originals were published for the first time under this new imprint and very quickly became the home of noir fiction, the dark brand of crime writing that would go on to capture the mood of the general public.

At the end of WWII a new fear was brewing in the minds of America; images of nuclear warfare were embedded on the consciousness of a generation of people and McCarthyism via the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings instilled a previously unknown universal paranoia to the people.

These two key developments combined to provide a hotbed for bleak, raw, sleazy, deranged, violent, uncompromising, chilling, and warped, existentially horrific noir fiction with novels selling in excess of one million copies on a regular basis and spawning numerous copycat publishing imprints.

The first name from this second generation is one a lot of people are already familiar with, Mickey Spillane; his first Mike Hammer novel was I, The Jury (1947) and continued to write in to the 50s yet it wasn’t until the end of the era that he really came in to his own. Kiss Me Deadly (1952) was the basis for the iconic film noir of the same name and serves as a great introduction to a protagonist who is a complete and unashamed misogynist, unafraid of offending anyone, in stories that you jump on and ride like the wind through intrigue, fist fights, witty dialogue, sexual encounters and the inevitable denouement.

The other name that regularly gets mentioned as the obvious hardboiled heir to Chandler and Hammett is Ross MacDonald. The Moving Target (1949) was the first appearance of Lew Archer, a PI that would last through 18 novels to The Blue Hammer (1976). This series longevity alone makes MacDonald stand out from the field of hard-boiled authors but the growth of the character and the evolution of writing style from Chandler copycat to a writer who was as comfortable with poetic imagery and psychological insight as witty putdowns and biting sarcasm marks him as one of the true greats of the genre.

Gil Brewer is something of a forgotten man but he was prolific and popular in his time, having over 30 novels published in the new paperback original format. But to those in the know Gil Brewer is a treasure trove of 50s noir goodness. His protagonists are ex-soldiers, ex-cops, drifters, convicts, blue-collar workers, charterboat captains, unorthodox private detectives, even a sculptor.  The plots range from searches for stolen gold and sunken treasure to savage indictments of the effects of lust, greed, and murder to chilling psychological studies of disturbed personalities. The Vengeful Virgin (1958) that was recently republished by Hard Case Crime and The Red Scarf (1955) are amongst the standout titles from his bibliography.

Another man you could make the same statements about is Day Keene, the pair seems to go hand in hand infact. Even more prolific than Brewer, Keene has left a lasting legacy of entertaining noir stories that occasionally border on genius. Hard Case have also reissued a Keene novel in Home Is The Sailor (1952), you may also enjoy To Kiss or Kill (1951) and Dead Dolls Don’t Talk (1959).

Charles Willeford is the author who found fame in the 80s with his Hoke Mosely series but he published High Priest of California (1953) at the start of the boom in paperback sales and quickly followed it up with Pick-Up (1955) whilst still enlisted in the air force. Charles Willeford, in his best works, puts art, aesthetic sensibility, critical acumen, morality, and American ideology on a dramatic collision course, he was known for his quirky nature and eccentric characters and his juxtaposition of humour and violence is said to have influenced a young Quentin Tarantino (but then what didn’t?)

The other big Charles of the period was Charles Williams and he really was a BIG Charles. In 1951 his debut novel sold over one million copies in a time when one hundred thousand was the norm and in 1953 he became the first paperback original to be reviewed by The New York Times. Widely praised by critics Charles Williams is to the paperback originals what Hammett was to the 30s. He is known for frequently satirizing his male protagonists’ points of view, while implicitly reassessing the traditional genre figure of the femme fatale.

As mentioned previously about Woolrich, Williams was always more popular in France and only A Touch of Death (1954) and River Girl AKA The Catfish Tangle (1953) appear to be in print in English, a fact made even more shocking by the following statement made by pulp historian Woody Haut:

“So prolific and accomplished a writer was Charles Williams that he single-handedly made many subsequent pulp culture novels seem like little more than parodies.”

David Goodis is perhaps my personal favourite from this period (again he is widely available in French but not so much in English) his novels depicting the bleakness and darkness of lives in free fall, his words a statement of frustration, telling tales of gloom, depression and despair. Noir at its blackest. Down There AKA Shoot The Piano Player (1956) and Cassidy’s Girl (1951) represent him at his peak.

I’ve saved the biggest name, arguably the best writer of the bunch and possibly the most prolific for last, Jim Thompson. There are no good guys in Thompson’s literature; everyone is abusive, opportunistic, or simply biding time until able to be so. His style and prose elevated his work above well written genre pieces and in to literature which resulted in him being dismissed as just another pulp writer by those that read the paperback originals. The Killer Inside Me (1954), is perhaps his most famous work and represents the first time the reader was treated to an intimate portrait of a psychotic mind whilst The Grifters (1963) was his most successful movie adaptation.

Part three will take a look at the end of the popularity of paperback originals and what happened to crime fiction in the 60s and 70s.

This is a guest post by blahblahblahtobyYou can find him discussing books on Goodreads, discussing movies on Letterboxd, tweeting nonsense as blahblahblahtoby and on his blog blahblahblahgay, feel free to say hi.

There are literally dozens of great authors and great novels that could have been suggested as essential reading for this guide. The writer of the article went through agonising decisions over who to leave out and is more than aware that your favourite author probably hasn’t been mentioned but feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

This post is part of a four post series exploring the history of Hard-Boiled and Noir Fiction, for recommendations check out each post;

The 1930’s – 1940’s

The 1950’s

The 1960’s – 1980’s

The 1990’s – Onwards