Friday, October 17, 2008

Forgotten Books: TOUGH GUY WRITERS OF THE THIRTIES -- David Madden, Ed.

A little nonfiction this time. Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties is a book that changed the course of my life. Before I read it back in 1968, I wasn't sure anyone besides me took hardboiled writing, especially the kind found in paperbacks, worthy of serious consideration. The essays in this book proved that others took it even more seriously than I did, and I was persuaded before I finished reading them that I could convince a committee of English professors to let me write my doctoral dissertation on private-eye fiction.

My favorite essay in the collection will always be R. V. Cassill's "Fear, Purgation, and Sophoclean Light," a meditation on Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me. Wonderful stuff. But so are all the others. I don't have time to name them all, if you like tough-guy fiction and the hardboiled school, you have to read this book. Cain, Hammett, Chandler are discussed, of course, but so are plenty of others. McCoy, Gresham, the Black Mask boys, Hemingway, many more. Great stuff, and highly recommended. Plenty of copies available on abebooks. Buy one. Treat yourself.

9 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

This one sounds like huge fun. Thanks.

Scott Parker said...

Bill,

Just checked the Harris County library. They have this book. Thanks for the heads up. The essays in this book will certainly help in my crime fiction education.

BTW, did you ever publish your dissertation?

Fred Blosser said...

I read it in 1969. I was already somewhat familiar with Hammett, Chandler, and 1969-era Gold Medal, but the book made me aware of others I hadn't encountered yet, particularly Paul Cain and Horace McCoy. I especially liked Durham's article on the BLACK MASK stable and Sturak's essay on Horace McCoy, a revelation. I'm surprised that Sturak or someone else never collected all of McCoy's BLACK MASK stories in one volume. Coincidentally, one of my English profs at the time knew Sturak and had worked with him at RAND.

I always wondered how firmly Cassill's tongue was stuck in his cheek when he titled his essay.

Bill Crider said...

Scott, I don't think anyone would be interested in that dissertation. Trust me.

Fred, I've wondered the same thing about Cassill. That essay, by the way, isn't the source of the quotation on the GM cover of Thompson's book. The quotation comes from an article in, I believe, the New York Post. I read it long ago, and I wish I could find it again. It has some interesting comments on Cassill's own paperbacking.

Scott Parker said...

As an author of a thesis myself ('The Best Stuff Which the State Affords': A Socio-economic Portrait of the 14th Texas Infantry in the Civil War, 1862-1865), I can attest that there are usually only 6 people who read these things: the author and the 5 professors on your committee.

Bill Crider said...

All for the best, in my case.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have spent the day looking for this book which my husband swears he has. He's gotta weed out some of this useless stuff like Plato and Aristotle.

Juri said...

I thought all dissertations are supposed to be published in some sort or another. Many of them seem nowadays to be web-only publications, as PDFs. But, Bill, I'd be interested in your dissertation. And I'm pretty sure there'd be others. You could post it as a serial on your blog (gets tough if it exists only as prints).

Bill Crider said...

It may exist somewhere, but in those days there were no home computers. I wrote it in longhand on a legal pad, and Judy typed it. I have only a printed copy.