Tag Archives: Patricia Highsmith

Adventures in noir land

Pumpkin-JPEG

It has been a while since I’ve posted here on Pulp Curry. This is because I’ve spent the last few weeks travelling in the US. I spent time in New York and Washington DC. I also visited the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, the home of Edgar Allen Poe, David Goodis and, every two years, one of the most interesting literary festivals I have experienced, NoirCon.

NoirCon is not your common or garden-variety festival. No way. And that is a very good thing.

First of all, the focus is firmly on noir, mainly fiction, but also film, poetry or whatever (and that last category, ‘whatever’, encapsulates some pretty bizarre material). I’m not saying there’s not a place for broader events that include a wider range of contributors and crime fiction sub-genres. But it’s also great to sit in a room of people who are, for once, more or less, all on the same page in terms of their love of noir, and not have to feel you have to justify or explain the focus.

Second, although it’s not exactly an exclusive event, neither does it try to be any bigger than need be. I get the feeling that while organiser, Lou Boxer, does his best to come up with new presenters and topics, he’s happy for the event not to get out of control or stray beyond the noir remit.… Read more

Pulp Friday: prison pulp

The Ninth Hour“Gripping novel about a jailbreak – The bloody, death filled minutes while a murderous convict holds all the state of Massachusetts at bay.”

Jail breaks, prison life, men and woman wrongly convicted and languishing in hell hole jails, all these were popular themes in cinema in the fifties, sixties and early seventies. They were also popular topics for pulp fiction.

Exhibit A is this selection of prison pulps from my collection.

Between them, these books cover off on all the main themes associated with prison pulp.

There are tension filled jail breaks in Billy Braggs and The Ninth Hour (“Three desperate prisoners, armed with smuggled .45’s, were holed up in the Isolation Cell Block, with two guards as hostages”).

Wrongfully convicted men feature in The Fall of the Sparrow, Headed For the Hearse (“His address was Death Row and his lease was up in six days…”), and Patricia Highsmith’s The Glass Cell.

The travails of women behind bars, particularly their sensationalised sexual exploits, are the subject of the two Australian pulps represented below, The Lights of Skaro and Queen Rat (“From behind bars Dawn Arness ruled the lives of prisoners and guards alike. She was Queen Rat”).

Prison was particularly suited to my favourite sub-genre of pulp fiction, tabloid-style reporting dressed up as serious sociological inquiry.… Read more

In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely placeOne of my favourite classic film noirs, without doubt, is Nicholas Ray’s 1950 masterpiece In A Lonely Place.

It’s a taunt, claustrophobic film that works on a very emotional level for me, much more so than most classic noirs I can think of, a devastating story about the artistic process of writing and one of the few period noirs that casts a critical eye on male violence. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I always end up with a knot in my stomach from on-screen tension.

Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical screenwriter on the verge of being washed up. He also has a very violent streak to his personality that’s obviously got him into trouble many times. His agent gives him a chance for a comeback, a gig adapting a novel into a screenplay for a director well known for his popular mainstream fare. Exactly the type of film Dix hates.

His self-sabotaging distain for the job is evident when he discovers the hatcheck girl at the nightclub he’s spent the evening in has read the book he’s been asked to adapt. He invites her back to his apartment for her take about the tome. His worst suspicions about the job confirmed, he sends the girls on her way with taxi fare and goes to bed.… Read more

Crime fiction criminals

By definition, the majority of crime fiction characters are criminals or at least commit illegal and/or immoral acts. But books where the main character is a full-time professional criminal are surprisingly few and far between. Here’s a selection of some of the best.

It’s worth noting that when this post originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Lover website, readers came up with several good additions, including Andrew Vachss’s Burke, Charlie Huston’s Henry Thornton, Lawrence Block’s hitman character Keller and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. I had originally thought of including the James Ellroy character Dudley Smith (“Knock, knock, who’s there, Dudley Smith, so reds beware”), but he’s a bent cop so not eligible. However, Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant would definitely make the cut.

Please leave a comment if you can think of any others.

Parker by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)

The 24 books written between 1962 and 2010 featuring the professional thief known as Parker remain some of the best crime fiction ever written. Sixteen Parker novels appeared between 1962 and 1974. Westlake took a rest from the character until 1997, then wrote another eight Parker books.

Parker is a career criminal who steals things for a living. Get in his way on a job or try to double cross him afterwards and he’ll hurt you.… Read more