The Evolution of Prologue Books, Greg Shepard
When I was a teenager, I didn’t have a bookstore in my town. So the only place I ran across new books was in the wire and spinner racks in the corner drug store and Sprouse-Reitz (too young yet to be visiting the liquor stores). We didn’t even have a used bookstore. For that I had to talk my dad into driving all the way over to Sacramento to Beer’s Books, a dusty little den where my allowance went a little further. But that didn’t happen too often.
We all know that when you’re a kid, if you don’t have something, you make do. So I poured over these drug store spinner racks. I was a science fiction reader then, so all those great John D. MacDonald and Carter Brown and Frank Kane and Brett Halliday and Mickey Spillane books were just a tease to me. They seemed to promise so much—a forbidden world of adult problems, adult concerns….and sex. Tempting, but…..
Science fiction was escape. This mystery stuff looked scary real. At the time, I kept to the safe stuff. Even the mysteries I read were safe: Phyllis A. Whitney, Conan Doyle, E. Phillips Oppenheim. But I still remember those paperback covers. Dell had all the best covers, dark and alluring. Signet was a close second. Later I discovered that Gold Medal had the best writers. Maybe they just didn’t have the best distributor in my town. That may have been the case. I don’t remember seeing them at the drug store. When I think of those spinner racks, I always think of Dell Books.
Eventually, I found out what I had been missing when I didn’t buy the hot, new Johnny Liddell mystery but kept to the latest Ace Double Science Fiction instead. By this time, sf (we never called it sci-fi) had discovered sex, too, so that wasn’t the big deal. But all the time, I had been right—these forbidden fruit books really were pretty damn dark: cynical, subversive, not always delivering a happy ending, sometimes taking the hero down at the end in a spray of lead. Most of the time the main character was just a screwed up mess.
First I discovered Cornell Woolrich because Ace started reprinting them and I was a big Ace Books collector back then. Weird, twisted stories they were: nightmarish. Then came the hardboiled period. I read all the Raymond Chandler novels. And Dashiell Hammett. And James Cain.
I started reading Jim Thompson and David Goodis in the mid-80’s when I discovered the Black Box Thrillers from England. And quickly graduated to W. R. Burnett and Horace McCoy, Peter Rabe and Gil Brewer, Vin Packer, Fletcher Flora, Harry Whittington, Charles Williams. Dark stuff, tortured heroes, crimes gone wrong, thwarted desires, lots of drinking, lots of smoking. I had found my heroes. And bought up every old mystery paperback I could find, everything I had said no to back in my youth.
Eventually I was able to translate that love affair into a reprint publishing house, Stark House Press. And even more eventually, I was able to team up with Ben LeRoy and help get these authors into the modern ebook format via a new website, Prologue Books. It’s been a long trip from a town without a bookstore to today’s internet-saturated world where everything is available. Yes, it’s all available, but Prologue just made it a whole lot easier. It’s almost like having a new bookstore in town…..