Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

Here's this week's question from the Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for

What's the one genre that you wish you could get into but just can't?

The Bad Catholic has never really had this problem. At one time or another I have dipped into everything: mystery, fantasy, science fiction, romance, Western. My mother used to read those Harlequin romance novels one right after the other, stacks of them. I even read a couple of those when I was growing up. Except for re-reading The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, though, I haven't read too much fantasy in recent years. In fact, until I started this blog, I have concentrated on recent years in reading non-fiction, primarily history and theology.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hardboiled America

Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir (Originally Published 1981, Expanded Edition 1997) by Geoffrey O’Brien is, as the title says, about both the history of the paperback book industry and the men and women who wrote the books.

The paperback book was the direct successor of the dime novel of the 19th Century and the pulp magazines of the early 20th century. Early on, paperback book publishers commissioned artists to do paintings for paperback covers which were designed to do one thing: sell books. And then as now what sells? SEX.

Hardboiled America contains a great collection of prints of paperback covers from the 1940s through the 50s. Many of them are in color. In fact, most of the time, the lurid cover paintings of women with heaving bosoms in various states of undress were much more provocative than what was actually in the book. Many of these artists worked in obscurity but many have been indentified. O’Brien discusses what is known about the artists who worked on paperback covers and discusses their work in detail.

The second half of the book is taken up with a discussion of the authors of “hard-boiled” crime noir and their work. Dashiell Hammett, the grand daddy of hard-boiled detective authors, wrote long before there was any such thing as a paperback book. However, Hammett got his start writing for the pulp fiction detective magazine The Black Mask. Hammett’s novels naturally were exactly the sort of fare that paperback publishers were looking for. Later, in the 1950s, came “the paperback original,” a novel which was never published in hard cover but was written exclusively for the paperback market. Writers such as John D. MacDonald and Jim Thompson pumped out book after book in quick succession as paperback originals. And there were sub-genres like the drug addict story and the juvenile delinquent story which pretended to deal with serious subjects but were marketed to appeal to the prurient interest.

For anyone interested in American popular culture in the mid twentieth century or in crime noir, Hardboiled America is a must read.

For another great review of this book, concentrating on the work of John D. MacDonald, see the blog The Trap of Solid Gold.

COMING SOON: One of the great classics of Crime Noir: James M. Cain's 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for

Book Blogger Hop

The question for this week's Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for is Where do you get all your books?

The Bad Catholic answer: I should own Amazon and Alibris by now with all the money I have spent over the years. The people at the post office know me by name and think I'm crazy carting out armloads of book packages. is to the bibliophile what the drug dealer is to crack cocaine!

A Bullet for Cinderella

John D. MacDonald was an incredibly prolific author. Over the course of his career he wrote over 70 novels and countless short stories. When MacDonald left the army at the end of World War II he began writing stories for the pulp magazines of the era. In the 1950s MacDonald began churning out one pulp fiction novel after another which were published as “paperback originals.” Living first in Mexico in the late 1940s and then re-locating to Sarasota, Florida in the 1950s, MacDonald is recognized as one of the masters of the “hard-boiled” crime noir genre.

John D. MacDonald

A Bullet for Cinderella (1955) (also published as On the Make) is a story as hard-boiled as a 30 minute egg. Tal Howard has recently been discharged from the army after being captured by the Chinese in the Korean War. While a prisoner of war Tal had met Timmy Warden who told Tal how he had embezzled and hidden $60,000 (a lot of money in 1955) from his brother’s lumber and hardware business. Timmy also told Tal that the only person who knew where the money was hidden was his former girlfriend Cindy.

Armed with the above information, Tal shows up in Timmy’s hometown of Hillston to try to find Cindy and locate the stolen money. When Tal gets to Hillston he is surprised to find Fitzmartin who was also in the prison camp. In prison, Fitzmartin was a weasel who collaberated with the enemy and would not lend any assistance to fellow prisoners. Fitz had overheard Timmy tell Tal about the money. While Tal was still recuperating in an army hospital, Fitz has shown up in Hillston and gotten a job working for George Warden, Timmy’s brother. George, whose no good wife Eloise is believed to have run off with a traveling salesman, has become a down and out alcoholic.

Tal begins to poke around and ask questions and looks up as many of Timmy’s former friends and associates as he can find. Tal begins to be more than friends with Timmy’s former girlfriend Ruth. There’s also Timmy’s old girlfriend, the dirt poor Antoinette Rasi who lived in squalor in a shack next to the river. In the eighth grade Timmy had played Prince Charming and Antoinette had played Cinderella. Antoinette has gone to the big city, changed her name and become a high class call girl for the mob. Timmy used to call her Cindy . . .

The body count in A Bullet for Cinderella goes pretty high with the inept Hillston Police apparently too hapless to do much about it and Tal, who has no experience as a detective, doing a much better job of putting the pieces together. Characteristic of MacDonald, Tal does a good bit of philosophizing about the nature of life and trying to “find himself.” In the end, Tal finds out that the love of a good woman is more valuable than money.

For a thorough discussion of this novel and everything related to John D. MacDonald, visit the blog A Trap of Solid Gold.