Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Praise of Smaller Houses

Pulp is the hottest thing in mysteries these days: everyone from Jeff Pierce at The Rap Sheet to John Banville (justifying his late plunge into mystery writing) and Ed Gorman have used the recent publication of Otto Penzler’s massive anthology to wax enthusiastic about the form which shaped – like an ethnic or regional diet – our daily lives.

But the best news for me about the Penzler tome (which now sits on my bedside table and, at 1150 pages of words and pictures, will be there for a long time) is that it marks the return of Black Lizard, one of those smaller houses that has kept the non-blockbuster mystery form alive. Kevin Burton Smith mentioned at the housewarming (thankfully spared the full extent of that term during the recent Malibu/Topanga fires) of John Shannon and his swell dame of a partner, Charlotte Riley, that he’d heard that Black Lizard was planning to make a comeback five years ago.

You can’t mention “pulp” or “smaller houses” and not lead off with Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime, which recreates the world of the two-bit paperbacks (although the Fawcett and Gold Medal lines were up to thirty-five cents when I began buying them), including many of the original artists (Robert McGinnis’s erotic painting for Richard S. Prather’s The Peddler is better than Viagra.) Ardai’s choices are razor-sharp, and if you haven’t read Prather or David Dodge or Donald Hamilton in a while, give your senses a feast.

The list of imaginative, courageous small houses which specialize in crime is long. I've mentioned many of them on this page. There's my own publisher, Poisoned Pen, with another wonderful book about an opera castrato in 18th Century Venice just out...

Europa, who publish the best of foreign mysteries and have just made a splash with Steve Erickson's latest...

Stark House, a literal labor of love whose newest title is
and Kate's Mystery Books of Boston, where Richard Marinick's latest is stirring up sales.

Not to forget Soho Crime, Serpent's Tail, Felony & Mayhem, Mugshot and of course Crippen & Landru. They all know that small houses have an important role in the crime fiction world, and together they play it with grace and taste.

1 comment:

Ed Lynskey said...

I enjoyed reading your coverage of the small crime fiction houses.

Ed Lynskey