Some say that Bill Pronzini has read everything there is to read in mystery and crime fiction. So, who better to share not only the best, but also the worst of the genres? Gun In Cheek (1982) is an “Affectionate Guide To The Worst In Mystery Fiction”. Evidently there was enough genuinely bad material to warrant a sequel, which was Son Of Gun In Cheek (1987). Anyone who’s popped for postwar paperback crime fiction or been suckered in by a vintage pulp magazine’s come-hither cover illustration knows that there’s been some squirm-worthy word-smithing that ripped out of a writer’s typewriter carriage, somehow got past an editor and actually made it into print. The classic pulp magazine and postwar paperback era may have been breeding grounds for titans of the genre. But for every one of those, there were a dozen fast-fingered hacks churning out some mighty dreadful stuff. Pronzini has selected some, doesn’t attack but lovingly teases, framing the writers’ deathless prose with his own insights and informative background info, and it’s really worth reading. And damn funny too.
Writers are always encouraged to read everything we can. It’s the best way to learn. While I’m not sure if reading bad writing is equally instructive, maybe seeing some of the worst can help us craft some of the best. Or at least, manage not to repeat prior sins.
Shown above is a 2018 trade paperback edition and a special edition of the same. Below is the follow-up title.