RARA-AVIS: Pulp pleasures

From: moorich2@aol.com
Date: 02 Oct 2004

It's been a while since I posted but I've tried to keep up with the list. Right now I am pissed off at having to cancel a trip to Bouchercon where some of you will be attending. Please send us full reports. I expect to be in Chicago next year and at a regional con in Austin in July. I hate missing Bouchercon but some things can't be helped.

As a poor substitute, I have been more active on eBay of late picking up a few pulps. Just received in hand "Detective Story Annual" 1946 Edition. These annuals are reprints from "Street and Smith's Detective Story Magazine." I expected a digest as the magazine had switched from pulp to digest around 1943 but was delighted to receive a trimmed-edges pulp.

The story that prompted my bid was "Death Does the Jitterbug" by Roger Torrey, reprinted from a 1944 issue. Torrey is one of the forgotten regulars of
"Black Mask," who for years wrote very funny, tough stories when he wasn't earning a living as a speakeasy/nightclub piano player. He's forgotten because he published only one novel in his lifetime (42 DAYS TO MURDER in 1938, reprinted by McMillan in 1988) and he died too early for paperback revivals. As I've learned from his half-brother Don Torrey (who sent me the death certificate), Roger tied of acute intoxification on January 11, 1946 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at the age of 45 or 46 and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetary in that city. One day someone should do a collection of his novelettes that will lead to a greater recognition of his contributions to the hardboiled story. He really is quite good. If you haven't read his one novel, it is easy to pick up a cheap copy and well worth seeking out.

But the story in this pulp that cheered me up the most was a reprint (also from a 1944 S&S Detective Story Magazine issue) of a Race Williams story by Carroll John Daly entitled "Body, Body--Who's Got The Body." Now this story comes 21 years after the first Race Williams story appeared in Black Mask, the story commonly recognized as the first hard-boiled detective story. Daly continued to turn out Race Williams stories well into the 1950s, long after Mickey Spillane took the Williams inspiration to the best seller list with his Mike Hammer novels.

In small doses, I am a sucker for Daly. He is crude to the edge of literacy but he is also funny, some of it intentionally. And whether the story was written in 1924 or 1944, the style didn't change. So I skipped past the Torrey story (which led the issue) and read the first three paragraphs of the Daly story. It is so perfectly Race Williams, I have to quote it to you (minus any SICs):

"I was ending up a case and I didn't like it. Larry Lapeno was a tall slender greaseball with thin sneering lips that some women called smiling ones. His eyes were shrewd and foggy. His black hair the kind that first caused white towels to be placed over the back of Pullman chairs. I didn't like Larry Lapeno and I liked him even less now as I sat beside his desk and counted out five hundred dollars in blackmail money.

"'Really, Williams'--he ran a hand through the shiny blackness above his oily forehead--'the damned letter isn't worth five dollars to the girl. I suggested she use you, and I set the price at five grand so you could pull me down and pose as a clever man to the--Miss Cole is the name, isn't it?'

"'There's the money.' I bit the words off sharp. 'If I don't get the letter, I'll blow a hole in your forehead.'"

What a perfect Race Williams opening. Old Race not only would blow a hole in this creep's forehead, he's aching to do so.

The pulp also includes a story by the great Fredric Brown "Murder In Miniature" that has another neat opening:

"Somehow, even before I opened that closet door I knew something was waiting for me there. Don't ask me how I knew; I just did. When you've got a major mental warp, you don't question the minor ones."

Now that's a great opening paragraph! So despite having to cancel my Bouchercon hotel reservation, I am a bit cheered by this one pulp. And, heck, I've yet to sample stories by Hugh Cave and Bruno Fischer, who both wrote many fine stories in their long careers.

Richard Moore

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