Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Pretty Good Bad Guy

If you enjoy pulp-era fiction as much as I do, then a must-own book is The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, published in 2007. It’s a treasure trove of cool detective and mystery stories from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I picked up a copy a few years back, then soon after got a copy for my Kindle. This sucker is one big book, so the e-version is just easier to carry around.

It also allows me to read another story whenever the mood strikes me, so I still haven’t quite finished it. There’s a lot of great stuff here: tales by Erle Stanley Gardner, Hammett, Chandler, Frederick Nebel and other masters of the genre.

There’s also a few by less-well-known authors. One of these is “Dance Macabre,” by Robert Reeves, first published a 1941 issue of Black Mask magazine. The main character is a tuberculosis-ridden pickpocket named Firpo Cole. He hangs out at a dime-a-dance taxi joint because he’s got it bad for one of the girls. Unfortunately for him, that girl has it bad for the club’s owner.

When the girl turns up dead, Firpo is the main suspect. The cops bring him in and beat him up a few times, but he doesn’t confess. Aside from being innocent, he wants to find the killer on his own—get justice for the girl he loved.

Firpo is a sad, broken human being surrounded by other broken human beings. He works as the “hero” because you can’t help but feel sympathy for him. He’s not tough or smart or all that capable, but he is stubborn and it seems he really did love the girl. And when he finally figures out who the killer is—well, his final action isn’t a complete surprise, but the stark, simple sentence that ends the story carries a real emotional punch.

A lot of pulp stories are just plain fun without any deeper emotions behind them. But there’s a few—like “Dance Macabre”—that really get under your skin.


  1. This sounds like a book I would thoroughly enjoy since I'm craving hardboiled stories like these and have been listening to a lot (too much) Bob Bailey as George Valentine and Johnny Dollar. My question is whether the book is made up of facsimiles of the original pulps, which I enjoy more than re-set type editions (e.g., give me the big book of Sherlock Holmes facsimile pages from the Strand vs. the reset versions of The Shadow and Doc Savage). --Gary in Omaha

  2. The Big Book of Pulps didn't do facsimile reprints, but did re-set the type. The print version does, though, use double columns that simulates how these stories usually appeared.

    It also includes original illustrations and great background information on the authors. I appreciate the enjoyment of facsimile reprints, but I'd still recommend this book.

    You can NEVER listen to too much Bob Bailey!!!


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