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
Both Hammett and Chandler had their novels originally published as hardbacks. But both of them, like so many original hardboiled writers from the first generation reached a mass readership through two other forms created by the publishing industry: The pulp magazines in which their short stories were first published, and the paperback. The latter’s rise, starting in the early 1940s, ensured the continued circulation of their work. In 1933 Chandler published his first fiction (“Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”) in Black Mask (which had been launched in 1920) and continued publishing there and in other detection magazines until 1941. Continue reading
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The first 120 volumes in the Seventh Circle (Septimo Circulo) series were selected by Borges and Bioy Casares, both practitioners and very well- informed observers of the crime genre and its developments since the 1930s. It is well known that the pair had previously co-written, under the pseudonym of Bustos Domeq the ultimate armchair detection classic, Six problems for Don Isidro Parodi, published in 1942. The Septimo Circulo series reflects their tastes (even though, unlike Borges, it favours novels over short stories) and views on crime fiction aesthetics. Given the global status and influence of Borges especially, the vision of a canon of international crime fiction which emerges from this selection is interesting. The visualisations below show which authors were published, between 1945 and 1954 in the series’s first 120 volumes, and highlight their relative importance there. Continue reading
Raymond Chandler once wrote “The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers”. Himself a British subject for most of his life and career, one of his most obvious targets, conversely, was eminent author of “British-style” mysteries, John Dickson Carr (alias Carter Dickson), who was in fact an American. This is of course not strictly about nations, rather it is about sub-genres of crime fiction and the different forms and interpretations of its evolution. It is also against a well-recognized literary coterie; “the famous Detection Club, which is a Parnassus of English writers of mystery”. The statement helps to build an opposition, mostly between 1920s English mystery novels (and their authors and their readers), and American Pulp magazines of the same decade (and their authors and their readers). Continue reading
The Fleuve Noir series “Spécial Police” was the most popular of all French crime fiction series. It sold hundreds of millions of books and published 2075 different novels. Jean Cocteau was among its admirers. It was, needless to say, largely ignored by critics, academic, literary or otherwise. The books tended to be available at train stations, newsagents, and supermarkets rather than in bookshops. You would not expect to find one in a library. Yet, the series was one of the great matrices of literary imagination in France during the second half of the 20th century. Launched in 1949, it continued to publish until 1987. The majority of its more than 300 authors were either French or francophone, save for one Russian, one (prolific) American, two Germans and a handful of other exceptions. It became an amazing pool of creative talent. How many thousands of authors submitted manuscripts? In the twenty-eight years since the series ceased to exist, some of the authors who had been published there have fallen into the most complete obscurity. Very little is known about them, not even their names (many used pseudonyms) or what they did next – or even if they are still alive and writing. Who were and who knew André Goss, Michel Coulmer, Sanz Boto, Mike Cooper and J.M. Valente? Who met Thierry Bataille, and Susan Vialad (or the author publishing under her name), and who remembers them?
André Goss, aka André Gossiaux, Repassez le suaire. Paris, Fleuve Noir, “Spécial Police” n°58 , 1954.
Illustration Michel Gourdon. Continue reading
Ah ! les vaches, Paris, Presses Mondiales, 1953 (Cover by Mik, drawings by Gal), adaptation of Jim Schott, Ah ! les vaches, Le Trotteur , 1952
Belgian publisher Roger Dermée, in one of his fated post-war ventures in Paris, published in 1953 with Presses Mondiales a series of 48-page booklets, priced at 95 cents, entitled “Les grands romans noirs dessinés“. These were comic book adaptations of novels written by French authors using American-sounding pseudonyms and originally published in other series. Translating these novels into comics was a way of taking noir literature’s commitment to a visual narration literally. The pictorial form was always going to emphasize the already graphic depictions of lust and violence in the novels. As such, it inevitably caught the eye of censors. It was also difficult for artists to meet the short deadlines for the graphic adaptation of a full novel. Having completed a text, they could then discover that the publisher no longer existed, nor could pay them, and that a legal suit had been opened against their work and its alleged obscenity.
Du sang dans la sciure , 1953, Cover by Alex Pinon, drawings by Guy Mouminoux Continue reading
Images and bibliography courtesy of Ilari Haapasalo
Agatha Christie’s books have been translated into more than 100 languages. The world’s bestselling author, she has sold, according to the Guinness Book of Records, 2 billion copies of her mysteries. Initial sales were slow, however. The first edition of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) sold 2 000 copies. Published six years later, her seventh book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Collins, 1926) sold 5 000, and it would be more than 20 books and more than 15 years later before the first edition of her Three-Act Tragedy (1935) would pass the mark of the 10 000. The French translation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was the first book in the famous and perennially successful “Le Masque” series, launched by the Librairie des Champs Elysées in 1927. There too, success came slowly. It took all of three years to sell 3000 copies. In the same year, the same book was translated in Finland. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was actually published there under three different titles and by 3 different publishing houses : Odottamaton Ratkaisu (Satakunnan kirjateollisuus, 1927); Kello 9,10 (Otava, 1929) and Roger Acroydin murha (WSOY, 1959)
Agatha Christie, Odottamaton Ratkaisu (Satakunnan kirjateollisuus, 1927) Continue reading
By Dr Stewart King, Monash University
The development of crime fiction in Catalan from the Civil War until today has been shaped by two major historic events: the Franco regime (1939-1975) and the reestablishment of parliamentary democracy following the dictator’s death in 1975. After the war a series of laws were enacted prohibiting the public use and teaching of Catalan and, during the early 1940s, the publication of books in Catalan. Indeed, in scenes reminiscent of Nazi Germany, books were thrown onto bonfires or pulped. However, from the mid-1940s the regime began to relax some of the restrictions on the use of Catalan, and books started to appear, some in clandestine editions. The effect of such policies on Catalan culture and identity cannot be underestimated. By 1975 only approximately 50 percent of the population could speak Catalan and even fewer could read it. In contrast, the return of democracy has seen the recovery and consolidation of Catalan as a language of communication and cultural production.
Francoist cultural policies shaped in many ways the sort of literature Catalans wrote, as many authors saw it as their duty to defend Catalan as a language of prestige by producing works of high culture. Others, nevertheless, felt that Catalan literature should cater for more diverse tastes by providing books, like crime novels, that catered to the tastes of a readership beyond the well-educated middle class. Of the latter writers, Rafael Tasis and Manuel de Pedrolo stand out.
Tasis was the first Catalan to write crime fiction after the war, publishing a trilogy of novels set in pre-war Barcelona: La Bíblia valenciana [The Valencian Bible] (1955), És hora de plegar [Quitting Time] (1956) and Un Crim al Paralelo [Crime on Paralelo Avenue] (1960), although the latter was actually written in Paris in 1944 where Tasis resided in exile until 1948 Continue reading
John Creasey, Inspector West Cries Wolf, Hodder & Stoughton, 1954
Hodder & Stoughton original Yellow Jacket series were published in England from 1926 until 1939. A second series was launched in 1949. Each book cost 2 shillings. The covers remained yellow until 1957, when the series gave way to Hodder Pocket books. Uber-prolific English author John Creasey (1908 – 1973) published there some of the six hundred novels he is credited with (under twenty-eight pseudonyms). Hodder & Stoughton published notably books with his Inspector Roger West , and his eccentric, aristocratic, “Saint”- like character, the “Toff”, a sort of later days Arsène Lupin. The Toff was created in 1938. Charteris’s The Saint was also published and republished in the same series, as were many successes from the first, interwar series : Wallace, Oppenheim and Sapper amongst many others. Or Patricia Wentworth, with her upper-class compatible, governess-detective, Miss Silver. The yellow covers signal classicism, in the detective novel or the thriller traditions.