The clip-clop, clip-clopping of boot heels scraping the old cobblestone road approach nearer and nearer as you diligently wait for your bus. The fog swirls and dances around your eyes conjuring specters and phantoms from the gloomy yellow of the street light above. The clip-clop is right behind you! You twirl while raising your arms to defend yourself--from what? There is only fog and shadow. As your heart rate slows and your fear makes you feel foolish, you wonder why your side is leaking sticky syrup? As you lose focus and realize you're dying, a pair of shiny eyes appears over your slumping body, bright with murder and revenge. You wonder why...
During late 1920's and into the 1930's, a shift came about in the fictional world of detective stories. With the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, the exploits of rich, dapper detectives from merry old England were less in vogue. Paperback novels and pulp magazines had recently been introduced and they offered a great format for the sleazy detective writings to come.
One of the first great detectives from this changing landscape in America was Ellery Queen. First appearing in the 1929 novel The Roman Hat Mystery, Ellery Queen was the brainchild and pseudonym of two American cousins, Manfred B. Lee and Frederick Dannay. They went on to write 33 novels together that spawned movies, television shows and radio broadcasts.
"The two women exchanged the kind of glance women use when no knife is handy." - Ellery Queen
Speaking of literary collaborations, I think this is a great time to mention the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mystery stories. The Hardy Boys first appeared in 1927 with The Tower Treasure. Nancy Drew's first story appeared 3 years later in 1930 with The Secret of the Old Clock. Both series were created by Edward Stratemeyer, a publisher of children's books. They were hugely successful upon release and continue to be popular today. The Hardy Boys were written by various ghostwriters over the years under the pseudonym of Franklin W. Dixon. Nancy Drew got the same ghostwriter treatment under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. Though often cheesy and unbelievable, these stories brought detective fiction to children hungry for excitement and adventure.
"The sooner, the better!' - Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys)
In 1925, Earl Derr Biggers introduced Asian sleuth Charlie Chan in the novel House Without a Key. Chan would only be featured in five more novels through 1932, but would have huge success as a film, radio and television icon for decades to follow.
"Every man must wear out at least one pair of fool's shoes." - Earl Derr Biggers
A decidedly more literary alternative to Charlie Chan would be Erle Stanley Gardner's famous crime solving lawyer Perry Mason. After publishing a few pulp short stories in pulpy Black Mask magazine, Gardner featured Mason in the novel The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1933. Perry Mason went on to be featured in over 80 novels and numerous radio, film and television shows.
"I like what I like and not what I'm supposed to like because of mass rating. And I very much dislike the things I don't like." - Erle Stanley Gardner
The pulp magazines of the 1920's and 30's featured brutal, soulless detectives and femme fatales who slapped, kicked and murdered their way through the sleazy stories in which they appeared. Perhaps the best and most popular of the pulp detective writers was Dashiell Hammett. He basically mastered what was deemed "hard-boiled" fiction. His use of language was vivid, yet sparse, and his characters were often cynical and corrupt. An actual Pinkerton Detective before becoming a full time writer, Hammett created some of the most memorable characters in detective fiction, including Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), and the famous "nameless detective", The Continental Op. Hammett worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter and carried on a long affair with playwright Lillian Hellman until his death in 1961. Hammett is still a personal favorite of mine because of his lurid tales featuring gumshoes and private eyes that live and die by their own vague moral codes. Recommended!
"You got to look on the bright side, even if there ain't one" - Dashiell Hammett
Raymond Chandler, a true heavyweight in the detective fiction genre, had his first story published in Black Mask in 1933 after losing his job as an oil company worker because of the Great Depression. Along with Dashiell Hammett, Chandler is often considered to be a founding father of hardboiled crime fiction. When Chandler introduced detective Phillip Marlowe in his debut novel The Big Sleep (1939), he left his stamp on all crime fiction to follow. Humphrey Bogart went on to film stardom playing Phillip Marlowe in the excellent but convoluted film version of The Big Sleep. Chandler also wrote the stunning novel Farewell, My Lovely and equally moving The Long Goodbye. Chandler also enjoyed success in Hollywood after penning the screenplay with Billy Wilder to the famous Noir classic Double Indemnity (from the excellent James M. Cain novel of the same name) Chandler also wrote the screenplays to The Blue Dahlia and co-wrote Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.
"The coffee shop smell was strong enough to build a garage on." - Raymond Chandler
"Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence." - Ross Macdonald
So put on your slippers, fluff up your favorite pillow and settle in for a night of murderous mayhem while enjoying some classic detective stories. They'll chill your bones and warm your mind!
Dan @ Central