Monday, August 01, 2005

But Death Runs Faster -- William P. McGivern

When I was a kid, I knew William P. McGivern as the author of frothy fantasy stories for magazines like Fantastic. I had no idea he was married to Maureen Daly, the author of a book called Seventeenth Summer, which I read in high school mainly because Daly supposedly wrote it when she was still in her teens. (I loved it, but I didn't tell anybody then that I'd read it because it was "a girl's book.") And I found out only later that McGivern was the author of such hardboiled classics as The Big Heat and Rogue Cop.

But Death Runs Faster
(from 1948) isn't hardboiled. About medium, I'd say. And it's a formal mystery story, right down to the gathering of suspects at the end. The plot is the one about the office bully, the guy everyone hates and has a motive to kill. Of course he's murdered, and of course the narrator, Steve Blake, is the prime suspect. All that being said, McGivern presents the material in a way that would have made the book fit right in if it had been published five or six years later as a Gold Medal original. It's that good.

What might make the book even more interesting to some of you is that at the beginning of the novel, Blake takes on the editorship of a pulp detective magazine. (The office bully is his associate editor.) McGivern has a little fun with some pulp writer characters, and gives a some insight into how a pulp magazine was (or should have been) run. I found all of this highly entertaining. What I liked was how the writers all talk about Proust and Stendahl instead of, say, Carroll John Daly. And of course they talk about money, too. If you can find a copy of this book, check it out.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing McGivern to our attention. I became friendly with Dorothy B. Hughes the last five years of her life and we often talked about writers who had faded after their deaths. She considered McGivern one of the two or three best hardboiled writers of his generation. She always said that he was a serious writer, kind of a pulp Graham Greene. And I sure agree. There are at least eight or nine of his titles that would be in print in a just world and But Death Runs Faster is one of them. He did a post-war novel set in the jazz clubs of Chicago called BLondes Die Young---under the pen-name Bill Peters--and the historical element is fascinating. Because what he's describing is the pre-beat era that was already there--crash pads, cheap wine parties, poetry readings, heavy duty jazz and of course so much marijuana I got a contact high just reading it. He was a fine fine writer and Blondes could also easily have been a Gold Medal, too. His masterpiece was Odds Against Tomorrow, which is spiritually one of those most violent and nihlistic novels I've ever read until the very end. Ed Gorman

Duane Swierczynski said...

I'm with Ed. McGivern is way underrated. I loved THE BIG HEAT, and not just because of its Philly setting. (One of these days, I've got to write an essay for Al's Noir Originals comparing McGivern's 1950s Philly to the modern day city... there are so many ironies.) And I recently picked up a copy of KILLER ON THE TURNPIKE AND OTHER STORIES, and the title tale was a crisp, fast-moving (literally) manhunt that fit its novella length perfectly.

Now you both will have me tracking down DEATH RUNS FASTER and BLONDES DIE YOUNG...

McGivern was also a Philly journalist for many years--he wrote for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin. I wonder if he and David Goodis ever crossed paths.

Todd Mason said...

I wonder how much a roman a clef of Ziff-Davis's pulp line we're talking here...certainly as a Philadelphia transplant who's enjoyed even the least of the McGiverns I've read in the old Z-D magazines, I shall have to chase some of these down. ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW alone would demand that, some twenty years after seeing the film.