Friday, October 29, 2010

Forgotten Books:THE HARDBOILED LINEUP, edited by Harry Widmer

Harry Widmer, the editor of this anthology, was also the editor of the short-lived '50s crime digest from which the nine stories here were taken. Reading them, I recognized again that the pulps lived on in digest form. The first (and longest) of the stories is "Las Vegas Trap" by William R. Cox, and it's pure pulp. Nick Crater flees Las Vegas mobsters only to wind up in the middle of a small-town murder case. Plenty of action and a satisfactory conclusion. Ad Gordon was really Arnold Hano, and his "Justice is Blind" is an example of a story that's about 90% telling and 10% showing. And it works just fine, thanks. "Hot Snow" by Vin Packer is the only story in the book that I'd read before. It's short, it's noir, and it fooled me the first time. "Living Bait" by Fredrick Lorenz isn't noir, but it has a nicely dark ending. It's set in Florida, and it's the kind of thing that some of the other Florida writers of the time (Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington, John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams) might have done. Richard Deming's "Scented Clues" is a police procedural, nicely done, with a trick ending that you might see coming. Well, half of it, anyway. Doesn't matter. It's still a well-told tale. Speaking of Gil Brewer, as I was, "Die, Darling, Die" is also set in Florida, and it has one of those couples in it that Brewer did so well, a man and a woman so hot for each other that the pages practically steam. As often happens in such cases, things do not end well. In "The Trouble with Alibis," another noir story, John Mulhern shows us once again that the best-laid plans don't always turn out the way you'd hope. Just as they don't in "Don't Go Away Mad" by Robert Turner. Great title for this one. Dark stuff. The final story, "The Sinkhole," is by James P. Webb, and it's a good bit lighter. A little comic relief to close things out.

This little collection is fun to read if you have a taste for pulp (or digest, if you want to get overly technical) fiction. These stories would have been right at home in the pulps of the '30s and '40s.

UPDATE: Todd Mason reminds me that I forgot to mention the title of the digest from which the stories came. It was Justice.

7 comments:

  1. Scott Cupp8:30 AM

    Great choice, Bill!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is one of my favorite hard-boiled anthologies.

    ReplyDelete
  3. So, which digest was Widmer the editor of?

    The digests started as just a smaller, trimmer sort of pulp, when you get right down to it...John Knox's shudder-digest stories in S&S DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, cheek by jowl with the good stuff by William Campbell Gault and other, better writers, was still shudder...even as L. Ron Hubbard wasn't writing notably differently (nor, sadly, batter) for the pulp or digest ASTOUNDING...

    Regional clusters...you're one of the Texas '70s group, you've name-checked the turn of the '50s Florida group, there's a pretty obvious '20s-'30s Cali group...and then there are those who don't seem to regionalize much, the Jack Ritchies and Ed Wellens of the fields...

    ReplyDelete
  4. And, of course, if you want to stay overly technical (as many do), the digests were often the paperbacks of the early days, even when they were being sold like magazines (even as the more mm-sized paperbacks were, though the latter were less likely to be dated or carry simple numbering systems).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ah...JUSTICE. Not a title that gets bruited around much. Also, early on in the Wyn organization, he was an editor on TEN DETECTIVE ACES. Wonder if he overlapped with Donald Wollheim much at Ace.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Reminding me of the Vin Packer book sitting on my shelf.

    ReplyDelete
  7. If both you and George Kelley recommend it, it's definitely going on the TBR pile. Our library doesn't have it, but hopefully I'll run across it elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete