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Adrenaline talks

This adrenaline-doing-the-talking collection of detective fiction showcases the genre's Big Daddies.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2006 17:58 IST

Pulp Fiction: The Crimefighters
Editor: Otto Penzler
Publisher: Quercus
Price: £ 12.99
Pages: 514
Format: Paperback

Eat lead, you soup-sipping, celery-chomping literary types! At the end of the day, after the hurly-burly’s done, if you have to curl up with a book, go for the Real McCoy — or in this case, the Real McCoys.

In this adrenaline-doing-the-talking collection of hard-boiled detective fiction, one can get acquainted with the Big Daddies of pulp fiction: the likes of Paul Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Charles G. Booth, Cornell Woolrich and, of course, Raymond Chandler. But here, they are using the short story form, and the rat-tat-tat shows.

Otto Penzler, who has edited this anthology, knows from where to pick and choose. He is the proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, one of the oldest and largest mystery specialists in America. Penzler starts this voluminous enterprise with Paul Cain’s One, Two, Three, a gem first published in the Black Mask Magazine in 1933, the same year that Cain wrote his magnum opus, Fast One. There’s a dead woman (blonde, of course) in a hotel — “There was a knife in her side, under the arm. There was a .38 automatic near her outstretched arm. She was very dead.”

The man who influenced Hemingway’s writing style follows. And Dashiel Hammett shows a thing or two about style in The Creeping Siamese and a plot-line that rests on a sarong. Erle Stanley Gardner’s Honest Money has the pre-Perry Mason incorruptible, hard-hitting defence attorney, Ken Corning, cracking a case.

The thirties' post-Prohibition America is served up in a heavy, shot glass in Charles G. Booth’s Stag Party. There’s a underworld-run nightclub, the hero’s in a dinner jacket and he’s waiting for a showdown with the mob. What else do you need in a taut, 45-page page turner that ends with the line, “I never was much of a lad for hanging a woman”?

Dostoyevsky and Al Capone would have loved this book

Few have ever matched Raymond Chandler’s prose (in any genre) and it shows in Red Wind. To not quote the opening paragraph here would be criminal. “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

Cornell Woolrich switches the gears with his Two Murders, One Crime, published first in the July 1942 issue of Black Mask under the title, Three Kills for One. The author of noir classics like The Bride Wore Black doesn’t hold back his punches while telling this story of a killer being nabbed for a murder he didn’t commit.

Penzler also show-cases lesser known practitioners of the trade, such as Horace McCoy (Frost Rides Alone), Leslie T. White (The City of Hell!) and George Harmon Coxe (Murder Picture). If the best hard-boiled novels are Gothic albums depicting human nature, the stories in Pulp Fiction: The Crimefighters are Baroque snapshots, taken in curtained booths and captured in a flash. Don’t know about the literary types, but both Al Capone and the guy who created the axe-wielding Raskolnikov are talking about this collection at the local diner.

First Published: Dec 11, 2006 17:58 IST