Category Archives: Crime fiction

Mid-year reading report back: David Whish-Wilson, Simenon takes a train & 1970s Mexico noir

It already half-way through the year, and I thought a quick report on the highlights of my reading so far is in order. This is especially since I have a couple of big writing projects on the go and, as a result, will probably not have the time to do anything of the sort again before the end of the year.

So, let’s get to it.

The Sawdust House, David Whish-Wilson

Regular readers will have seen me talk before on this site about how much I rate David Whish-Wilson. I genuinely believe he is one of the most underrated crime writers working in Australia today and his latest does nothing to disabuse me of this view. The Sawdust House is Whish-Wilson’s second book to explore the lost Australian history of mid-19th century San Francisco. The Coves (2018) told the story of Australian criminals, many of them former convicts, who drifted to the San Francisco in the hopes of making a fortune amidst the gold rush gripping the west coast of the US at the time, and who assumed a major role in the lawless city’s criminal world. The Sawdust House focuses on the life of one of these men, Irish-born James ‘Yankee’ Sullivan, who has been arrested as part of the nativists attempt to root out and crush Australian criminal influence in San Francisco.… Read more

Horwitz Publications, Pulp Fiction & the Rise of the Australian Paperback

I know that this site has not been getting quite as much attention from me as usual over the last year. This is largely because I have been so busy with various book projects. A quick update on these might be in order.

First up is my academic monograph, Horwitz Publications, Pulp Fiction & the Rise of the Australian Paperback. Out via the Anthem Press Studies in Australian Literature and Culture series in early July, it now has a cover and is available for pre-order. It is in hardcover, with a price that reflects the fact that it is being targeted at institutions and, in particular, libraries, in the first instance, but I have negotiated with Anthem for a much cheaper paperback version of the book will be released by Anthem next year.

Horwitz Publications, Pulp Fiction & the Rise of the Australian Paperback originated in a PhD I took at Sydney’s Macquarie University and turning it into a monograph has taken a considerable amount of my time over the last year. Regular readers will no doubt be familiar with Horwitz, as the publisher of many of the paperback covers that I post on this site. My study is the first book length examination of Australian pulp and one of the few detailed studies I am aware of a specific pulp publisher to appear anywhere.… Read more

The mystery of Billy Rags

Billy Rags, Sphere Books, 1975
McVicar By Himself, Hutchinson, 1974

Crime fiction is just far too large a literary field to aspire to anything near being a completist in terms of reviewing. That said, the British noir author Ted Lewis has been something of a favourite on this site. I reviewed Jack’s Return Home aka Get Carter (1970) and its two sequels, as well as the novels Plender (1971) and GBH (1980). But there is one more Lewis work I want to tackle, Billy Rags, originally published in in 1973 and which, coincidentally has just been re-released by No Exit Press in the UK.

Billy Rags is very closely based on the life of the real British criminal John McVicar. Just how closely I’ll get to directly. McVicar was an armed robber, declared ‘public enemy no 1’ by Scotland Yard in the 1960s, until he was apprehended and given a 23-year sentence. He was also a serial escapee and after his final arrest in 1970 received a 26-year sentence but was paroled eight years later. McVicar was also something of a uniquely 1960s/70s phenomena, the self-aware/educated working class career criminal turned author and commentator on prison reform, a major social debate in those two decades. He studied for a university postgraduate, wrote an autobiography, McVicar by Himself, published in 1974, and authored a couple of other true crime books.… Read more

The bleak, propulsive noir of Georges Simenon’s Romans Durs

If forced to nominate any positives at all out of the last two years of global pandemic, it is the increased time I’ve had to read. In the first year of Covid I made good on a long-standing desire to read John le Carré’s George Smiley books. A literary focus of 2021 was the work of the Belgium born writer, Georges Simenon. Simenon’s output was a staggering 400 novels, although some have claimed he wrote as many as 500. The best known of these is his acclaimed series of crime procedurals featuring the French police detective Jules Maigret, 75 of which appeared between 1931 and 1972 (Simenon died in 1989). But my interest in Simenon is in his other, somewhat more shadowy body of work, his so-called romans durs or ‘hard novels’: tightly plotted, intensely psychological, often quite slim stand-alone volumes that have so far yielded some of the best noir fiction I can remember reading.

My latest piece for the US site CrimeReads, on the bleak psychological noir of Simenon’s Romans Durs is live and can be read in full here.Read more

My cultural highlights of 2021

In past years, I have always tried to conclude the writing year with wrap up of my top fiction/non-fiction reads. But this year I want to do something a little different and look more broadly at the culture that has sustained me in what has been another difficult and stressful 12 months, dominated, as it has for so many of us, by the Covid pandemic.

Film

As was the case in 2020, Covid meant that I spent far more time than I would’ve liked at home. So, most of the movies I watched had to be on the small screen. One of the standouts for me was a 1953 Argentinian retelling of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M, called El Vampiro Negro or The Black Vampire. Helmed by one of Argentina’s most famous mid-century directors, Roman Vinoly Barreto, the story focuses the panic that engulfs Buenos Aires as children are stalked and murdered by a paedophile. Barreto particularly focuses on a nightclub singer and mother, played by Argentina’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Olga Zubarry, who is the sole eyewitness to the child killer and who fears her daughter may be the next victim. Proof positive that classic noir was not just a North American phenomena, El Vampiro Negro is a powerful film, stunningly restored by the US Film Noir Foundation.… Read more