“The Poets of Tabloid Murder”: That’s a chapter title in Peter Haining’s The Golden Age Of Crime Fiction: The Authors, The Artists And Their Creations From 1920 To 1950. I love that line. It ought to be a book title. I just might have to steal it for something.
British author Peter Haining (1940 – 2007) is well known to genre fans, and not just the mystery genre. Horror aficionados surely know him well from numerous anthologies and non-fiction books on ghosts, vampires, the Frankenstein legend and Dracula – Bram Stoker’s Count and the historical figure. He wrote several novels of his own, and worked under a couple of pen names as well. For mystery fans, Haining has authored a number of books on the roots of crime fiction and the art of mystery pulps, comics and books. When it comes to the hard-boiled and noir-ish segment of the genre, Americans tend to think of it as all ‘ours’, the hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-loving private eyes being uniquely American creations. It’s good to get another perspective, which if not a truly global overview, still one that forces Yanks to open their eyes to other authors, films, books and illustrators from England, France and elsewhere.
The Golden Age Of Crime Fiction takes a quick look at the roots of the mystery genre, then plunges in to the 1920’s era, which you could argue was dominated by British writers. It covers all the obvious bases in pulp magazines and the postwar paperback revolution through the rise of espionage novels (in the 1950’s, largely a British trend that wouldn’t really explode in the U.S. until the early sixties). My two favorite chapters in this handsome and lushly illustrated book are the already mentioned “The Poets Of Tabloid Murder” and the chapter that follows, “The Mean Streets of Crime Noir”, these two covering the hard-boiled and noir novels of the 1940 – 1950’s era, with special attention paid to the rise of hard-boiled crime fiction in the U.K., which erupted once readers got a glimpse of Raymond Chandler, James Cain, W.R. Burnett and others. While we may be familiar with postwar British crime fiction’s saucy book covers (often as not, done by British artist Reginald Heade) frequently seen on many blogs and sites, it’s good to read up on the novels’ writers, like James Hadley Chase, Michael Storme and Hank Janson (Stephen Francis). Some of these British writers and their publishers had to grapple with obscenity suits and arrests, the British market still a little more conservative than the U.S. scene when it came to murder, violence and most of all, sex.
Published by the UK’s Prion Books, this book was from the local library oddly enough, but I see it’s readily available online. You can bet I’ll be ordering one to keep.