Category Archives: True crime

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

Book review: Beautiful Revolutionary

I first came across Melbourne author Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s work when she participated in a Noir at Bar event I helped organise last year. That night she read one of the tales from her short story collection, The Love of a Bad Man. It is tempting to view her debut novel, Beautiful Revolutionary, as an extension of that collection – twelve terrific stories told from the point of view of the lovers and wives of various bad men in history. Indeed, if I remember correctly, one of the pieces in The Love of a Bad Man concerned the Reverend Jim Jones, a very bad man and the central focus of Beautiful Revolutionary.

Woollett’s novel spans the period of history from the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in June 1968 to the events that occurred in November 1978, when over 900 people died from drinking poison at the People’s Temple Agricultural Project, better known as ‘Jonestown’ in Guyana, founded by cult leader, Jim Jones. When I was younger, I remember Jonestown being described as a mass suicide but, as relatives of the dead have since pointed out, it was really a mass murder, as all but a few drank the poison under duress.

Although we never hear the story from his point of view, the book revolves around Jones, a self proclaimed socialist saviour, but also a sexual predator, quack faith healer and an increasingly unhinged demagogue.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Guns with plots

Let’s make one thing clear. I don’t own a gun. Never have and never will. Indeed, the only guns I want to see are in film or on the cover of books like the ones featured in today’s Pulp Friday post.

For a while now I have been obsessed with the cover above of the 1964 Panther edition of Len Deignton’s The Ipcress File. The cover, done by influential English graphic designer, Ray Hawkey, who would go onto to do a number of paperback covers, exudes a style and tone I could never imagine being used today except as a deliberate retro homage.

It speaks to the everyday grime, drudgery and unglamorous boredom of the Cold War spy racket, which the Deighton novels featuring the working class spy, Harry Palmer, evoke so well. There is also the mess that comes with the trade: a cold cup of tea (probably cold); cigarettes, because in the sixties every fictional spy smoked; paperclips for the paperwork; and, a gun and bullets, because sometimes you have to kill someone.

It is a gritty, cluttered layout I associate with mass paperback novels of the type that were largely targeted at men in the 1960s and 1970s. As it turns out, a bit of a dig around reveals it was a style that was widely used in those two decades – but it also bled over into the 1980s – by mass market paperback publishers in the crime, mystery and espionage thriller categories.… Read more

10 great Australian crime films

To mark the addition of Ivan Sen’s 2016 film, Goldstone, to BFI Player, I was asked to write on 10 great Australian crime films. The piece is live and can be read in full on the BFI site here.

Book review: Hard-Boiled Hollywood

I challenge anyone to get more than a few pages into Jon Lewis’s 2017 revisionist history of post-war Hollywood, without thinking about the parallels to Harvey Weinstein scandal, and all the terrible tales about America’s movie capital that have flowed from it. As Lewis’s book demonstrates, Hollywood – both in the temporal and fantasy sense (and both play a role in this book) was never any different. Arguably, it used to be far, far worse.

Lewis’s book doesn’t deliver a lot of new information or historical research about Hollywood. What it does deliver, in spades, is the meticulous collection, collation and synthesis of a huge amount of pre-existing research, media commentary and popular culture folk law, which he weaves together into a cogent and comprehensive overview of post-World War II Hollywood, and the various power players, criminals, film stars and fringe dwellers, and how they interacted with a studio system in the throws of major transition.

The book touches on lots of familiar names: Robert Mitchum and his famous drug bust; Frank Sinatra, already on the start of his trajectory towards conservatism, and his famous stoush with celebrity columnist, Lee Mortimer; the bullying, manipulative HUAC stooge, Cecile B DeMille; Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, and his close ties to the studio system, just to name a few.… Read more