Hammett

Hardback Noir

 

Spanish

Raymond Chandler, Spanish Blood, The World Publishing Company Tower Mystery, 1946

It is well known that hardboiled stories, which we would now describe as noir, first appeared in 1920s pulps magazines. And that, from the early 1940s, noir novels were circulated as paperback reprints or, in many cases, paperback originals. This belies the fact that the influential, early hardboiled novels were published as hardbacks, complete with polished dust jackets. This benefited especially hardboiled writers of the 1930s, before the triumph of paperbacks. But even after that, noir authors whose books had been published as hardbacks tended to find an easier way into the modern canon of noir literature. While paperback warranted circulation (as the case of Spillane made clear), hardback still anchored conservation, and hence institutionalisation.

Burnette

W. R. Burnett, Little Caesar, Lincoln MacVeagh, The Dial Press, 1929 Continue reading

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Pulps Authors in Paperbacks

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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

2500 Years of Noir

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Oedipe roi, adapted by Didier Lamaison, Série noire, 2355,  Gallimard, 2004
 

The Classical Tragedy is the matrix of the noir novel. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is the mother (!) of all tragedies. Gallimard’s Série Noire is the most iconic of the series devoted to the noir genre. It thus seemed almost unavoidable that the Série Noire would publish a novelisation of Œdipe roi as a roman noir.  Not only is it the story of an investigation centred on a crime, and on an enigma, but the tragic plot of the devastating fall of a flawed hero, at the hands of both a malevolent fate and his blind ambition, has profound echoes in the noir genre. From his arrival in a city plagued by fear and division (like in Hammett’s “Poisonville”) to his social elevation, followed by the discovery that he is himself the culprit, to the intertwined dimensions of the collective (public unrest, civic duties, public office) and the private (anxieties, name, secret, genealogy, sex) such echoes abound. In all these situations (and to say nothing in particular about the role of transgression, violence, horror and mutilation) tragedy is revealed as a classic form of noir, just as noir appears as a modern expression of tragedy.

What might, however, sound  slightly more surprising is that this novelisation, “adapted from the myth” has become, 25 centuries after the original creation, one of the best-sellers in the Série Noire. It has had various re-editions. One of them was published together with a new traduction of the original tragedy. Continue reading

Settings for a crime scene

      KIng Dell

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Rufus King, Holiday Homicide (Dell 22)

Dell books paperback comprised different populargenres, from the Western to the adventure and the sentimental novel.  But  half  or more  of them were crime fiction. The maps on their backs merges visually all these genres. After all, the four of them can, to an extent, rely diegetically, figuratively or at least metaphorically on sketches and raw drawings (Treasure island map, carte du tendre, maps of a crime scene or croquis for a heist). More than 250 Dell Books Mapbacks  were actually Crime scenes.  Crime Scenes without crime, without traces of violence, and almost always without people. A pure material and geographical world.  Put all together, they display a great sense of continuity,  attributable to the unity of style and colours in the work of artist Ruth Belew (who, according to Gary Lovisi, drew more than  150 of them). The wild, unruly, imaginary space of Crime Fiction looks here tamed, domesticated. Pleasant, harmonious, and perfectly defined squares look like the parts of a puzzle. A puzzle reassuring both in its nature as a game, and for its apparent completeness (although it would be interesting to inspect the spaces, states, counties and countries which are not represented). Continue reading

Maps on the Backs : Dell Books and the Cartography of Crime

 Hammett homicides Dell

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With thanks to Benoit Tadié

The crime scene map is a  feature commonly associated with  1920’s  Crime Fiction.  Detective novels of the Golden  Age tended to favour the spatial representation of  the mystery to be solved. The maps appended to the novels were data visualisations, as they presented the plot in one  easy (and appealing)  overview. Typically,   a locked room mystery, or a  secluded place mystery  (remote manor, island, lighthouse…) could handily be mapped on one page. Such cartographic paratexts not only accompanied the novel, but often preceding it,  they led into it. They were printed in the first pages of the volume, and at times on the cover itself,  inviting the reader to a symbolic and cognitive journey.  They  helped visualize the information relevant to the solution of the case presented in the book.  But at the same time, as they established a sense of location, they dematerialized it into a projection, and  an abstraction.  They became  thus metaphors of the detective novel as an intellectual construct. Imaginary, simplified spaces, stages for schematic problems, disconnected from referential realities.  This view was further corroborated by Chandler’s dichotomy, distinguishing between  the realistic, gritty, hard-boiled genre, which he and Hammett represented, and the delicate, but ultimately insubstantial, de-realized Mystery genre incarnated by Christie, Carr, Sayers and co.   Associated  with  golden age detective fiction,  maps would then paradoxically seem, from this point of view too,  to indicate less referential substance, rather than more. Continue reading

The Vampiro Series (Livros do Brasil)

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The “Colecção Vampiro”, published  from 1947 by Editora Livros do Brasil, in Lisbon, was one of the very fist series of Crime Fiction paperbacks in Portuguese. It  was certainly the most popular. The “Masters of detective fiction” it published  had  a large emphasis on English and American authors.  The size of he books and the notoriety of the authors rather than a clear cut definition of the subgenre of crime Fiction the books pertained to : Agatha Christie  and Dorothy Sayers alongside Hammett and Chandler; Wallace and Simenon; Van Dine and Ellery Queen.  The latter, and the likes of Erle Stanley Gardner were the most represented.  While a close contemporary of Gallimard’s Série Noire (created in 1945) Vampiro was editorially much closer to Le Masque (1927). Vampiro’s favoured novels of deduction and investigation over hardboiled noir. Continue reading

Crime Fiction in Ullstein Pocket Books

Servais Lorac Kane

Created in the early 1950’s, the series of mass market paperback books Ullstein-Büchern,  started  in the mid 1950’s to offer a  subdivision devoted to Crime Fiction, the Ullstein-Bücher Kriminalromane. This series had  different numbers than the rest of the Ullstein- books, to differentiate them from the general series (Allgemeine Reihe). It started at number  701.  Further differentiation, the big K on the title banner stands for Krimi. This is the mid and late 1950’s, and American authors are now predominant, in stark contrast to the original Ullstein Gelbe Reihe in the late 1920’s and 1930’s.  A canonisation of the noir genre has happened elsewhere, and Ullstein books reflect this.  The two first books published  as Ullstein-Bücher Kriminalromane are  Hammett (Der Malteser Falke) and Chandler (Einer weisst mehr). Hammett’s Bluternte is the sixth volume in the series. Continue reading

Detection Series in France in the 1920’s

Messac

In France, the 1920’s saw  a decisive evolution in the critical recognition of the crime genre (with, notably, the 1929 publication of Régis Messac’s thesis on the detective novel)  and in the organisation of the publishing industry towards the promotion of crime fiction. The most notable series created at the time was certainly the perennial “Le Masque”. It was by no means the only significant one.  Neither was it the first. Here are a few landmarks

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