Category Archives: True crime

Book review: Murder on Easy Street

Back in 2014, I wrote a piece for the Wheeler Centre site about what I described as the ‘new wave’ of true crime works. These books differed from the earlier style of true crime work, which, with a few exceptions, were liable to be by the numbers, often quickly written books about sensational crimes – serial killers being a favourite – put together from various second hand sources, with a bit of local colour thrown into the mix.

The new wave of true crime books I was referring to, were more literary, focused on the political processes around the crime in question and, indeed, had a much broader definition of what ‘crime’ was. More often than not, they also seemed to be written by individuals that were either directly involved in the crime in question or somehow managed to shoe horn their own life experience into what they are writing about, so they become as much about the author as whatever crime they are writing about. When these kind of true crime books work, they can work big time. But they don’t always work.

If I had to classify it, I would say Helen Thomas’s Murder on Easy has more of the former type of book in it than the latter.… 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

My top 10 reads of 2018

I reconciled myself long ago to the fact I will never get to the end of a year without thinking I have not read as much as I should have. That said, I have read some great books this year. Fiction and non-fiction, old books and new, in no particular order, here are my top ten reads for 2018.

Red Dragon, Thomas Harris

This year, I read a few bestsellers from the past to see if I can figure out what made them so successful, and this was my favourite. The book that introduced Hannibal Lector, it is a riveting rollercoaster ride into the serial killer mind. Beautifully written and acutely observed. Harris includes some incredible detail on forensics and police procedure without overdoing it. Red Dragon is the perfect mix of elevated airport novel and hardboiled crime story.

Twisted Clay, Frank Walford

Australian writer, Frank Walford’s 1933 account of a murderous young woman,  a pathological liar and sociopath, was banned in Australia until the late 1950s. The story, which contains patricide, sex work, suicide and the young female main character’s burgeoning awareness and enjoyment of her lesbian sexuality, is a wonderfully lurid read. One can only wonder what readers must have made of it in the 1930s. Not surprisingly, they seemed to like it as it was a bestseller in the UK and US, where it was published.… Read more

Interview with Iain McIntyre, author of On the Fly! Hobo Literature & Songs, 1879-1941

Regular readers of Pulp Curry may be familiar with the name Iain McIntyre, my co-editor on Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980, and its follow up, Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950-1980, out sometime in 2019. Iain is also the editor of a number of his own books, the most recent of which, On the Fly! Hobo Literature & Songs, 1879-1941, has just come out through PM Press. On the Fly! is an anthology which brings together dozens of stories, poems, songs, stories, and articles produced by hoboes to create an insider history of the subculture’s rise and fall. Iain was good enough to answer a few questions about his latest book, researching hobohemia, and the links between hobo culture and crime writing.

One of the points you make in the introduction to On the Fly! is that while there have been a lot of historical and academic studies about American hobo culture, there is very little currently available in the words of the members of the culture themselves. Where did you get the inspiration for this book?

I’d long been aware of hobohemia’s influence on American popular culture via country and folk music songs, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character, etc but it wasn’t until I met some modern train hoppers in the 1990s that my interest was really piqued.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Cuba – Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter

Earlier this year I posted in my semi-regular Pulp Friday column on Pollen’s Women, a book by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle that examined the career of Samson Pollen, an illustrator for some of the roughly 160 men’s pulp magazines that blossomed on American newsstands in the 1950s and 1960s (you can find my piece here). These magazines combined brilliant, often over the top illustrations, with hard-hitting fiction and lurid ‘non-fiction’ exposes of various mid-century cultural obsessions.

Chief among these obsessions was, as these magazines depicted it, the nefarious and barbaric activities of the various domestic and international communist minions the United States was then locked in global struggle with. A variant of this particular men’s pulp magazine enthusiasm is the subject of Deis and Doyle’s latest book, Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter, which examines the way these magazines depicted pre and post revolutionary Cuba.

I recall, while working as journalist in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1990s, many locals fondly remembering the assistance provided to them by Cuba, particular the medical doctors who were sent to these and other fraternal socialist allies in large numbers. Of course, I also realise that many Cubans do not look upon their country’s post-war history so fondly. The repressive nature of aspects of Castro’s rule can also be attested to by any number of intellectuals and the many openly gay Cubans who have been incarcerated by the regime.… Read more