Category Archives: True crime

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

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

Projection Booth podcast #543: The Mephisto Waltz (1971)

I had a great time co-hosting for the latest episode of Mike White’s Projection Booth podcast, on Paul Wendkos’s 1971 occult thriller, The Mephisto Waltz. The episode features a very special guest, Jacqueline Bisset. The Mephisto Waltz is one my favourite 1970s occult thrillers, occupying as it does a liminal space between the aesthetic forms and conventions of made for TV horror movies – hugely popular format in the 1970s – and big screen productions. We talked a lot about the film’s similarities to Roman Polanski’s 1968 movie, Rosemary’s Baby, other examples of occult transference cinema, and how the occult, along with other strange & unexplained phenomena – UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, the Bermuda Triangle – were much more a part of everyday public discussion in the late 1960s/1970s. You can access the entire episode at the Projection Booth site here.Read more

The real French Connection

My latest piece for the US site CrimeReads is a look at the real-life crimes that inspired William Friedkin’s 1971 classic, The French Connection. It is a tangled tale of Corsican gangsters, international heroin smuggling, the CIA and the war in Indochina – with a dash of my own experience in Laos. You can read the piece in full here.Read more