A few weeks ago I mentioned Bill Pronzini's observation that while most writers never become stars they can rise to the level of fine supporting actors. Or, as my favorite movie critic David Thompson has noted, a lot of us see certain movies for the character actors rather than the lumbering leads.
Thrilling Detective Heroes (Adventure House, $20) speaks directly to Bill's premise. Editors John Locke and John Wooley have gathered together pulp stories and wrters from the Thirties through the Fifties. With the exception of Carroll John Daly, most of them are forgotten today, though with the proliferation of pulp websites who's to say that such pulp stalwarts as Robert Leslie Bellem and Stewart Sterling won't find a new audience?
There are ten stories in all. Most have protagonists who are differentiated from the other protagonists through some kind of angle or gimmick. There's even a hobo detective called Bagdad.
The other thing the stories have in common is the sheer pace and pulse of pulp. This is meat and potatoes fiction. And that's what provides the fun. TCM has been running a lot of crime movies from the Thirties lately. I've watched a number of them. They're very much like their pulp magazine equivalents. Good versus evil with prim good girls and sexy bad girls told in short explosive scenes that race toward even more exlposive endings. Whether we're aware of it or not, this is where most of us came from.
This is a book that most popular fiction libraries should put on prominent display. While none of the stories rise to the level of Chandler or Hammett or even John K. Butler at his best, they certainly make a case for the second tier of the pulp boys. They demonstrate that these folks were craftsmen of a high order. If they didn't bother much with characterization, they excelled at action and atmosphere.
There's also a long and really engrossing introduction that charts the history of the Thrilling pulps.
A fine gift for the holidays.