Hard Cases

I have a bad case of something right now. No, make that a hard case. A hard case of crime. Because I am addicted to the Hard Case Crime books, published in cheap paperback volumes each year by the bushel. If you are someone who loves trashy literature, needs to have a certain sensational craving fulfilled from time to time, and has a nostalgia for the old, pulpy mysteries of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, I recommend you become a Hard Case Crime addict yourself. Here at Snell, we only have one Hard Case Crime book in stock: Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid. A good practical choice, considering he’s one of the few name authors included in the series, but this is not one of the typical titles. Many of Hard Case Crime’s books are reprints of old books from the heyday of pulp fiction. Most of them are by authors only known to a cult of mystery readers; others are completely obscure names. The late Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block are both represented, as are Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. If none of these names sound familiar, Donald Westlake is best known for writing the screenplay for the film The Grifters and Max Allan Collins for writing a graphic novel that was the basis for Road to Perdition. Here, they are represented with books such as The First Quarry (Collins), A Diet of Treacle (Block), and The Cutie (Westlake). Some of the novels in the series were written in recent years; some even have their first publication as Hard Case Crime books. Others have seen their first publication since the 1950s; for example, an early effort from Ed McBain called The Gutter and the Grave, originally published in 1958. The Hard Case Crime series was founded in 2004 by Charles Ardai, himself a mystery writer (he contributed a book to the series called Fifty to One). It is published in tandem with Dorchester Books. The series has been conceived with the idea of giving the book’s exterior—the cover, the design, the paper, the price tag—equal importance to the content. The adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover is utterly non-applicable. And what covers they are! Nearly every book features a scantily clad woman looking mysteriously at the reader, or at the male protagonist, who is always white, muscular, and in some sort of trouble. The colors are garish and give the cover designs a faithful look of sleazy pulp art. The paper is thin and cheap, the typeface un-ravishing, and the price is always as low as seven or eight dollars. Yet if the series sounds like one big male chauvinist fantasy, note that at least one female mystery writer—Christa Faust—is represented, with multiple books about a female sleuth. If the series also sounds like it’s prioritizing style over substance, you’re not far wrong; but that’s the point of these books. Pulp fiction is an exercise in style, mood and characteristics, and the physical look of each book follows suit. In this respect, this is a case of form following content. But correctness—political or artistic—is not the aim of these books. I have yet to read the Stephen King entry, but I hope to get around to it. It’s hard to keep up with these books at the rate they’re published. Please check out an article I wrote on this same subject for examiner.com recently, for additional information.