Pulp Friday: Narcotic pulp

Dope, smack, heroin, cocaine, the evils of narcotics have always been a central pre-occupation of pulp fiction, as can be seen by the selection of paperback covers below.

In Second Ending the victim in question was one of pulp’s favourite characters, a way ward jazz musician who starts taking drugs for kicks, “small time stuff at first”, Benzedrine, then marijuana, “and soon graduates to the killer drug – heroin.”

The main character in Nelson Algren’s classic, The Man With the Golden Arm, is a card shark and former heroin addict fresh out of jail who fights find a new life and avoid slipping back into his habit.

Open Your Hand and Close Your Eyes is a story of drug use and crime amid “a terrifying world where the razor gang rules and a teenage girl will do unspeakable things to get the drug she craves.”

Pulp’s obsession with drugs and their link with crime and changing sexual standards was often thinly dressed as sociological inquiry. A classic example is Drug Scene Kings Cross by Robert Connell, which promises to unveil the real drug scene in Sydney’s Kings Cross, including the aphrodisiac powers of marijuana or “‘pot’ as it is termed by its devotees”.

Better known is Go Ask Alice by Anonymous, an anti-drug propaganda tale about a teenage girls descent into junkie hell. I’ve heard this book was on some high school syllabuses in Australia in the seventies and eighties, although it is so unrealistic it’s doubtful it persuaded anyone not to use drugs.

Another variation on the theme is Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, a tale of teenage drug use and rebellion. And The Shame of a City purports to be a “probing look beneath the surface of a jungle of sin where perversion and crime thrive and human beings are exploited by ruthless men. Here are the facts in all their shocking truth about the new world of vice which flourishes amid the neon prosperity that is London by night.”

Other pulps dealt with the evil criminals behind the drug trade. In the 1958 edition of Christie’s Appointment With Death, the masterminds are Arabs (although it’s doubtful the cover had much to do with the original story). In North from Rome, the bad guys are the mafia. The Destroyers sees a group of cops got to Mexico to take on drug lords based in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, “where poppy fields and processing labs abounded and a handful of families controlled the profitable heroin trade.”


8 Responses

  1. Algren is a big favorite of mine.

    Saw a copy of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack at the used bookstore in the kid book section last weekend.

  2. Kent,
    Dinky can’t be any more hard core for young kids to read than the Hunger Games.

  3. When I was a kid, we read the S.E. Hinton books like Tex and Rumblefish in English class. I bet Dinky would’ve gone good with those.

  4. GO ASK ALICE was turned into a television movie in 1973. It had William Shatner starring, so you know it has to be good. :).
    There’s always been some controversy as to the authorship of the book. It was supposedly “based” on the diary of an actual teenage girl.

    • Yes, I’d heard the movie version had Shatner in it. As you say proof of its quality. I know a lot of people who have read this book and they tell me that any credibility it had as a piece of anti-drug propaganda was severely diminished by the fact that Alice went from an occasional weed smoker to a hard core smack addict in about a week.

  5. Speak for yourself. Go Ask Alice scared me to death!

    • Really? I only have a very vague memory that a lot of people were reading it at the time. Even as an early teenager, I thought it looked a bit suss. I think I saw the film but I never read the book.

  6. I completely bought its authenticity as the “real diary” of a teenaged drug addict. I was most resistant when a friend’s mother mildly suggested that “someone else may have finished it (writing the book) for her”. The thing that scared me the most was the LSD flashbacks, and the thought that even after she returned to her neat suburban life those flashbacks and her former unsavoury crowd re-emerge could drag her back to hell. Really sounds quite unconvincingly lurid, as I am typing this now.

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