Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hardboiled/Noir Writers Part 4

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Today, Gold Medal Books is regarded as the greatest of all the paperback original publishers, and with good reason. Others, like Dell, Ace, and Bantam, were all putting out solid noir stuff, but Gold Medal was the undisputed king of the genre, and the one most writers—and readers—of the time chose first.

To give detailed bios of every single writer of note who published with Gold Medal and the others would take far more room than I have here, but this brief survey is a who’s who of all-time great practitioners of the art.

One of the greatest was Wade Miller, although “he” was a “they”—Robert Wade and Bill Miller. They met in high school, collaberated on a number of projects, and eventually gave the world the Max Thursday series. In a very short period of time, they wrote a handful of really great noirs under the “Miller” byline, and were among Gold Medal’s best-selling writers.

Deadly Weapon
Kitten with a Whip
Branded Woman
Murder Charge
The Killer
Devil on Two Sticks
Guilty Bystander
Devil May Care

Steve Fisher was a writer who eventually made his way to Hollywood and started writing screenplays. Well into the 1970’s, he wrote for a variety of TV cop shows. His early novels, though hard to find now, are worth seeking out.

I Wake Up Screaming
The Hell-Black Night
Saxon’s Ghost

Charles Williams was one of a handful of writers who helped define what noir meant in the 1950’s, writing stark, unsentimental stories, usually about men falsely accused and on the run. Some critics consider him the quintessential Gold Medal writer.

River Girl
Hell Hath No Fury
A Touch of Death
Man on the Run
The Long Saturday Night
Hill Girl

Gil Brewer’s amazingly tragic life seemed to fuel a talent that was staggering. Recently, several different small publishers have re-discovered Brewer and put out affordable re-prints. Do yourself and favor and buy them.

The Vengeful Virgin
Nude On Thin Ice
Wild to Possess
A Taste of Sin
A Devil for O'Shaugnessy
The Three-Way Split
A Killer is Loose
Satan is a Woman
Play It Hard
Some Must Die

Day Keene was amazingly prolific, churning out one terrific crime thriller after another through the '50's. He had a very sly sense of humor and a gift for tight, fast pacing.

Joy House
Home is the Sailor
My Flesh is Sweet
If the Coffin Fits
Naked Fury
Sleep with the Devil
Bring Him Back Dead
It's a Sin to Kill

Lionel White wrote almost forty books, mostly for Gold Medal, many of them masterful examples of the "caper novel". Clean Break was the basis for the terrific early Kubrick movie, The Killing.

To Find a Killer
Clean Break
The Money Trap
Death Takes the Bus

Later in his career, Charles Willeford would create Miami P.I. Hoke Mosley, but his early non-series novels were pure psycho-noir at its bleakest, funniest, and most disturbing. A true indiviualist with little regard for the social constraints of his time, Willeford once said "Just tell the truth, and they'll accuse you of black humor." Black Mass of Brother Springer, especially, is worth seeking out. He's a personal favorite of mine.

The Woman Chaser
Wild Wives
High Priest of California
Black Mass of Brother Springer (aka, Honey Gal)
The Burnt-Orange Heresy
The Whip Hand

Peter Rabe: He wrote with clean style, and a voice that still seems fresh today. The best thing about Rabe was that he never wrote to formula: with any book of his you pick up, you never know what you're going to get. The only certainty is that it will be unpredictable and highly entertaining. One of the most original of the Gold Medal boys. Some of his work has appeared again in recent years, thanks to Stark House and Hard Case Crime.

Stop This Man!
A House in Naples
Kill the Boss Goodbye
A Shroud for Jesso
Murder Me for Nickels
The Box
Benny Muscles in
Anatomy of a Killer

Robert Edmond Altar is noteworthy because of the ‘strange factor’. Bizarro characters and an almost Southern Gothic flavor of psycho noir. Black Lizard reprinted them in the mid-80's. Good luck finding them now.

Carny Kill
Swamp Sister

Dan J. Marlowe came to the world of writing fiction late in his life, but in a short period of time managed to hit impressive numbers—both in the number of quality books he wrote and in number of sales, usually for Gold Medal Books. “The Name of the Game is Death” is considered one of the greatest noirs of all time.

The Name of the Game is Death
The Vengeance Man
Never Live Twice

Fredric Brown is known primarily as a science-fiction writer, but in the ‘50’s he wrote a handful of very highly-regarded noirs that were experimental in nature and existential in philosophy.

The Fabulous Clipjoint
The Screaming Mimi
The Far Cry
The Lenient Beast
Here Comes a Candle

They called Harry Whittington the "King of the Paperbacks", and with good reason. The guy wrote something like 180 books in about ten years, almost all of them distinctive for having as a protagonist a 'decent fella' on the run and facing overwhelming odds.

A Night For Screaming
The Devil Wears Wings
Web of Murder
Any Woman He Wanted
You'll Die Next

Chester Himes was the first black writer to make real headway in the genre with his tight and tough novels about Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. Hardboiled Harlem noir with a deft social conscience. Great stuff.

If He Hollers, Let Him Go
The End of the Primitive
The Real Cool Killers
Cotton Comes to Harlem

Jim Thompson is the Golden Boy of Psycho Noir, though the last few years have seen a strange critical backlash against his work. It's true that he wasn't as consistent a writer as some of his contemporaries, but when Thompson was on his game, no one-- absolutely no one-- could touch him. His books capture better than any one else’s the world of the sociopath faced with obstacles he’ll stop at nothing to overcome, and the inevitable spiral out of control. His novels were bleakly comedic sometimes, always weird, and even the mediocre ones were never boring.

Now and On Earth
Heed the Thunder
Nothing More Than Murder
The Killer Inside Me
Cropper’s Cabin
The Criminal
Bad Boy
The Alcoholics
A Swell-Looking Babe
The Grifters
Savage Night
The Golden Gizmo
A Hell of a Woman
The Nothing Man
After Dark, My Sweet
The Kill-Off
The Getaway
Wild Town
Pop. 1280

Next Wednesday, more great talent from the '50's...
Part Five


  1. what a terrific post. thanks. i've been off-line for a few weeks; stuff like this makes it great to be back.

  2. Thanks, Nigel... glad you're back!

  3. Great overview of the Gold Medal writers. Thanks for tweeting it to point me here.
    Enjoyed it.

    Ed Lynskey