Back when reading was the most popular form of entertainment, scores of pulps competed to feed the demands of a fiction-hungry populace. Outside the literary establishment, the pulps provided a place for up-and-coming writers to hone their skills, eventually giving birth to some of the most enduring offshoots of American lit. Among them, perhaps the most emulated around the world is the great tradition of the American crime novel.
The genre writers like Hammett and Chandler created and defined in the pulps of the 30’s and 40’s has become one of the most universally adored American exports. While the pulps that gave birth to American crime have been extinct for decades, the tradition has been kept alive by hundreds of independent publishers.
Over the next few months, we’ll introduce some of these indie crime presses and highlight some of their most innovative titles. We hope you’ll give them a chance. There’s no better way to keep fiction alive.
According to its website, New Pulp was founded in 2008 “as an alternative to the often generic world of conglomerate corporate publishing.” Focusing on “off center crime fiction and neo pulp,” New Pulp has put together one of the most exciting (and disturbing) catalogs in indie crime. From re-prints of noir classics (The Red Scarf and Flight to Darkness by Gil Brewer) to new work from some of the genre’s freshest and most underappreciated new voices, New Pulp is helping redefine the boundaries of modern crime fiction.
Here are two recommended titles:
A Choice of Nightmares by Lynn Kostoff
With just three books, Kostoff has earned his spot among the top literary crime writers of the modern era. His pièce de résistance, 2010’s Late Rain, demonstrated the raw power, portentous beauty and piercing vision possible in the noir form. While A Choice of Nightmares isn’t quite as satisfying as Kostoff’s ’03 debut, or as linguistically poised as Rain, it’s still one of the strongest crime novels of the decade. The story of a failed actor who unwittingly stumbles into the midst of a major cocaine distribution network in upheaval, Nightmare might be the quintessential 80’s novel. Unremittingly dark, it’s a harrowing return to a time when greed and excess ran the American Dream right off a pastel-colored cliff.
Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem by Jonathan Woods
Though his short fiction has graced numerous anthologies and webzines, Bad Juju is Woods’ first printed collection – and holds the promise of a new emerging heavyweight. The stories in Juju are fully realized, intense and compulsively readable – perfect little bite-sized pieces of dark chocolate, stripped of all but the essentials – characters, conflict and climax. One of the most exciting collections of short crime in years, Bad Juju marks the print debut of a writer who seems certain to do big things.
One of the newest, most active indie houses is the Bay Area’s PM Press. Specializing in progressive fare with a radical bent, PM has released over 100 books since it was founded in 2007. While the bulk of PM’s titles are non-fiction, it has several lines of fiction, including the popular Outspoken Artists and Switchblade crime series. Here are two of the best Switchblade titles.
I-5: A Novel of Crime, Transport, and Sex by Summer Brenner
I-5 offers an unflinching and unsentimental examination of the emotional wreckage created by sex trafficking. When Anya, a survivor of this brutal industry, is enlisted to help her tormentors “break” a difficult new girl, the trip she takes to another city offers her an exhilarating glimpse of freedom. Along the way, Anya’s flooded by painful memories that reawaken emotions she’d stifled long ago. As the journey goes off-course, Anya begins testing the boundaries of her captivity and entertaining thoughts of revenge. Steeped in tension and biting black humor, this noir road-novel-cum-character-study is an impressive debut by a promising new voice.
Pike by Benjamin Whitmer
A stand-out for the sheer urgency of its narrative drive, Pike is a stark examination of the boundary beyond which redemption becomes impossible. The title character is a former bad man living in comfortable anonymity in small-town Northern Ohio. His quiet life is endangered when a daughter he wasn’t aware he had tracks him down in the aftermath of her mother’s murder. Soon a crooked Cincinnati cop comes nosing around, and Pike’s suspicions lead him back to the bottom-barrel slums he once haunted to investigate. While Pike takes a few questionable detours, it manages to find its way back – moving forward with the inevitability of a runaway freight train. Rarely do debut novels pack such a punch.
Next installment of this series coming soon ...