Category Archives: Australian crime fiction

Pulp Friday: Australian pulp’s Spanish Connection

One of the tasks I set myself over the Christmas/New Year period was to start putting my pulp paperback collection into plastic bags. It is amazing that these fragile constructions of cheap paper, glue and card, never meant to last more than one read, have survived for almost half a century, and for a while now I’ve been thinking I should treat them with far more care.

Among my collection are a number of Larry Kent novels, which are incredibly hard to find in the wild nowadays. Most of these were purchased as a single lot on a random visit to a second-hand bookshop in the New South Wales coastal town of Ballina (better known as the home of the Big Prawn statue) during a beach holiday many years ago.

In the process of bagging these books I took the chance to do a little digging into Larry Kent’s little-known Spanish connection, which this post will examine, as well as being a long overdue coda to Cleveland Publications, until it closed early last year the last remaining player in the once large and boisterous post-war pulp publishing industry in Australia.

Cleveland was founded by Jack Atkins in Sydney in 1953. New Zealand born, Atkins was an entrepreneur and horse lover. For a time, he was also the secretary of the NSW branch of the conservative Democratic Labor Party, which split from the Labor Party over its links to communist influenced trade unions in 1955.… Read more

‘An Explosive Novel of Strange Passions’: Horwitz Publications and Australia’s Pulp Modernism

I am jazzed to have had published the first of what I hope is several peer reviewed articles flowing my from the research for my dissertation. “An Explosive Novel of Strange Passions” Horwitz Publications and Australia’s Pulp Modernism,’ appears in the latest edition of Australian Literary Studies Journal. It is open access until April next year.

Here is the abstract for the piece: The scant academic attention Australia’s pulp publishing industry has received to date tends to focus on pulp as a quickly and cheaply made form of disposable entertainment, sold to non-elite audiences. This paper will examine Australian pulp fiction from a different standpoint, one which links New Modernist Studies and the history of the book. This approach, referred to as pulp modernism, is used to question the separation of low and high publishing culture, dominant for much of the twentieth century. I apply this methodology to late-1950s and early-1960s Australian pulp fiction by examining the Name Author series released by Sydney-based Horwitz Publications, one of the largest pulp paperback publishers in the decades after World War II. The series took prominent mid-century Australian authors and republished them in paperback with covers featuring highly salacious images and text. The series offers a glimpse into a uniquely Australian version of pulp modernism.… Read more

M and my top 10 reads for 2019

It is no exaggeration to say I have been eagerly anticipating Samm Deighan’s monograph of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film. I love the film and I am a big fan of Deighan’s movie writing, so the combination is bound not to disappoint. And it didn’t.

As Deighan puts it in her introduction, M ‘exists in a liminal space between urban social drama, crime thriller, and horror film’. It was arguably the first serial killer film, long before the FBI coined the term in the early 1970s. Anchored by a superb performance by Peter Lorre as the paedophiliac child killer, Hans Beckert, it was certainly the first motion picture in which a serial killer was the central protagonist. Another crucial innovation was the way in which Lang depicted the character of Beckert in a not entirely unsympathetic light. This same sensibility would have a influence on some subsequent serial killer cinema, most notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror/thriller, Psycho.

Deighan discusses M’s broader social and political themes, including the film as a critique of modernity and a text for Germany on the brink of totalitarian control, appearing as it did a year before the Nazi’s assumed power and Lang had to flee the country.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is the discussion of how the themes in M would echo in Lang’s subsequent work, particular the threat of the lawless mob violence and what is perhaps the director’s most defining idea, how even the most noble individual is capable of brutal murderous thoughts and actions.… Read more

Blowback: late 1960s and 1970s pulp and popular fiction about the Vietnam War

If you are still on the fence about purchasing a copy of my new book, Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and the Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980, the site CrimeReads is running a couple of extracts from the book. The first is my piece, ‘Blowback: late 1960s and 1970s pulp and popular fiction about the Vietnam War’.

The conflict in Vietnam cast a long shadow over pulp and popular fiction in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Vietnam veterans were hunted by small town redneck police in David Morrell’s 1972 novel, First Blood, dealt drugs in Vern E Smith’s The Jones Men, and staged an abortive bank heist in Dog Day Afternoon, both published in 1974. In the Lone Wolf series ex-New York cop and Vietnam veteran, Burt Wulff mounted a fourteen-book battle from 1973 to 1975 against the drug dealing criminal organisation, ‘The Network’, in which he treated the streets of America’s major cities as an extension of jungles of Southeast Asia. Vietnam was the training ground for many of the characters that populated men’s adventure and crime pulp in the 1970s. More broadly, Vietnam’s traumatic impact on American society would become a cypher through which pulp and popular fiction name checked cultural fragmentation, growing disillusionment with the American dream, dishonest and unaccountable government and corporations, and the power of the military industrial complex.… Read more

2019 mid-summer reading report back

Summer is the one time of the year I am able find a decent amount of time to read. And, despite going full bore on my PhD at present, this year has, thankfully, been no different. Here is a very brief mid-summer reading report back.

The Real Lolita, Sarah Weinman

I have to fess up to not having read Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, or seen either of the films based on it (I have Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 version and, having read The Real Lolita, want to see it). This didn’t stop me from devouring Weinman’s book. The Real Lolita has two threads. The first deals with the 1948 abduction of an eleven-year-old New Jersey girl, Sally Horner. The second looks at the torturous process by which Nabokov created what is his best-known work, the story of a middle-aged literature professor and his obsession and, eventually, sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl, a story which Weinman contends Nabokov partly based on the Horner case.

Weinman painstakingly recreates the circumstances of Horner’s abduction and sexual grooming by a much older man, and the lengthy police investigation into her disappearance. It is fascinating, at times, horrific stuff and she puts it together brilliantly. I found the second strand concerning Nabokov less satisfying. … Read more