RARA-AVIS: Mysteries & Porn

Ted White (tedwhite@compusnet.com)
Fri, 08 Jan 1999 23:03:21 -0500 Mark Sullivan brings up an interesting topic: mysteries which have
dealt with porn. My guess is that a lot of forties and fifties
mysteries by the Frank and Henry Kanes of this business used porn --
along with "dope" -- as a sign of unsavoriness. It was virtually a
cliche -- in an era in which, as in Chandler's L.A., the Post Office
censored four-letter Anglo-Saxon words and Henry Miller was banned
from this country (and published in English by a French porn
publisher, Ophelia Press, owned by the father of the man who owned
Olympia Press). Like drugs, porn was talked about but rarely
glimpsed by middle-class America, except in the form of those
8-pagers, which were passed hand to hand by kids until they fell
apart. A very different era.

Two mysteries come to mind in which porn plays a role. One is Sue
Grafton's K IS FOR KILLER; the victim is a porn star. The other,
and by far my favorite of the two, for several reasons, is Don
Westlake's ADIOS SCHEHERAZADE. This is a delightful book about a
soft-core porn hack whose professional fantasies blend in with his
narration of the real story, which revolves around his writing a
Nightstand Book for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency -- at a time
(1970) when Westlake had left SMLA and had Henry Morrison (former SMLA
Vp) for his agent. (No easy task, that: Scott sued Henry over his
acquisition of Westlake.) There are lots of factual details, like
the way Scott segregated the porn (soft-core though it was) by putting
the manuscripts in black boxes (instead of SMLA gray), and agented
them through a P.O. box in Grand Central Station. For those who've
tracked down Nightstand books by Westlake and Block this book throws
in a lot of background details while having at the same time a great
(and different) Westlake plot on top.

--Ted White

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