George Axelrod, Blackmailer (Hard Case Crime, 1952)
Ah, the good old days. No, the GREAT old days.
photo credit: noirboiled.blogspot.com
Ah, the dime novel. You may have never read one—the dime novel was going out of style before the majority of people now walking the planet were born—but if you read modern novels, you owe a great deal of your reading experience to the dime novel. Grab yourself a few novels written before World War II—not necessarily rarefied tomes, but the popular novels of the day. Then, right on their heels, preferably the same day, grab a few novels written in, or since, 1960, and notice the change. Not anything specific as much as the overall tone and atmosphere. Today’s books are, for lack of a better word, punchier. They’re less languid, faster-paced. Their word choice has been boiled down (and let’s not dwell too long on the 1984-ish implications of that, shall we?). All of this you owe to the dime novel. It was one of those “just a fad” things that the major leagues turned up their noses at, leaving them to be printed by small upstart presses who used leftover newsprint (one of the sources of the term “pulp novel”) to produce almost unbearably cheap books…that sold by the millions and made those young upstarts very rich people indeed. The majors were right in that it was a fad, and dime novels, which were basically printed with an expiration date (you will never find one today still in readable condition that has not been in an airtight plastic bag for the past half-century), did indeed fade out over time—though that publishing model switch over in the seventies to what we now euphemistically term “adult books” (read: porn)—but the style in which those writers worked enchanted an entire generation of young writers, and those who were still too young to be writers yet. They all wanted to be Chandler, but they all wrote like Spillane.
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