Frank Gruber, The Pulp Jungle, Sherbourne Press (1967)
Maurice Leblanc, 813, Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, London, Mills and Boon, 1910
First published in France in 1909, the classic Arsène Lupin novel 813 was translated in England the following year by the then new publishing house, now famous for sentimental novels. This might come as a surprise but seems at the same time revealing. One of the secrets of Lupin’s attraction was his ability to cross generic boundaries. This Belle Époque Gentleman was not to be confined to the (then not yet theoretically defined, or even clearly marketed by publishers) crime genre. His charm appealed to both male and female readers, ensuring his widespread success. It is thus fitting that this French cousin of Hornung’s Raffles seduced the British market under the cover of a young publisher (Mills &Boon was founded in 1908) whose name would become a byword for stories of Latin lovers.
The Man in the Shadows, Grosset & Dunlap, 1928 (1930s reprint)
Carroll John Daly is the inventor of noir, having written a series of hardboiled stories even before Dashiell Hammett. He created the first Black Mask P.I, Race Williams, before Hammett’s Continental Op (both character debuted in 1923). He was the most popular pulp magazine author and it was said that the sole mention of his name on their covers meant a 15% increase in sales. After the war, Mickey Spillane, whose success with Mike Hammer far surpassed Daly’s, would acknowledge his debt to him; Daly’s was “the first and only style of writing” that influenced him in any way. Despite all this, Daly is now largely forgotten. His books were rarely translated, and are no longer read. Yet, his output was not contained to writing stories for pulp magazines, with 11 hardback crime novels published between 1926 and 1937. Continue reading
Founded in 1941 and based in NYC, Avon Books was one of the early publishers of paperbacks in America, following closely the industry-changing model set in 1939 by Pocket Books (also in NYC), with their pocket-sized publications. But while Pocket Books publications emphasized literary recognition of the works they republished, Avon chose to rather stress their popular appeal. Illustrations played a large part in this. Beyond the promise of a pleasurable read, the audience’s fascination with death is an equally reliable marketing force. Continue reading
Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, New York, Pocket Books, 1941
The first ten Nero Wolfe books were published by Farrar & Rinehart, a New York publishing company founded in 1929. Fer-de-Lance, published in 1934, was the first of the ten. It was published in abridged form in The American Magazine, in November 1934. By 1941, Howard Haycraft, writing in Murder for Pleasure, considered it to be one of the most influential Mysteries.
Dust jacket of the first edition (hardback) , Farrar & Rinehart, 1934
Bastille Day (today) seems an appropriate enough occasion to reflect on the use of a French context in US and UK paperback fiction from the golden era of crime fiction (1940s and 1950s). Far from the fireworks, musette music and petit bal du quatorze juillet, one can reflect on the often pejorative French stereotypes on which a large amount of postwar US and British publications were based. This is an opportunity to remember the importance at that time of a parallel subgenre of crime fiction, which is usually described as sleaze. Here are a few examples from US and British paperbacks, highlighting how apt the qualification is.
Some works by the likes of Pierre Flammêche and Paul Rénin deserve a special mention, for their great contribution to sleaze. Both were British authors of French sleaze. Paul Rénin was the penname used by Richard Goyne (1902-1957) to publish stories in “girls’ magazines”; Elsewhere he used the pseudonyms of John Courage, Aileen Grey, Scarlet Grey, Kitty Lorraine and Richard Standish. Pierre Flammêche’s real name was George Dawson. Also noteworthy are the works of Jules-Jean Morac.
Jules-Jean Morac, Bertrand and the Blondes (Vintage Paperback), New York: Leisure Library no. 12, 1952.
Further reading : Steve Holland, Mushroom Jungle: History of Postwar Paperback Publishing, Zardoz Books, 1993
Georges Simenon, The Saint-Fiacre Affair, Pocket Books, 1942
L’Affaire Saint-Fiacre is one of the earliest of Simenon’s 75 well known Commissaire Maigret novels (and 28 short stories). The investigation brings Maigret back to the village of his birth. Memories come back to him with all the vividness and rich textures of those of Proust. Maigret savoured the sensations of his youth again: the cold, stinging eyes, frozen fingertips, an aftertaste of coffee. Then, stepping inside the church, a blast of heat, soft light; the smell of candles and incense.
Alternative English language titles are Maigret Goes Home and Maigret on Home Ground.
The novel was adapted in 1959 to the screen by Jean Delannoy, with Jean Gabin.
Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios, Pocket Book, 232, 1944
Eric Ambler’s novel was first published in the UK as The Mask of Dimitrios in 1939. It is set in the shadowy international underworld in 1930s Istanbul. The plot consists of a crime writer’s perilous search for and reconstruction of the late, sinister Dimitrios. As the story of his life of crime unfolds, the deceased man becomes remarkably present, his shadow looming threateningly large over the narration. The novel is a masterpiece of action, suspense and modern writing. Homage, or acknowledgement of Ambler’s cult status as a crime and spy-thriller master, this is is the novel James Bond brings with him to Istanbul in From Russia, with Love.