Friday, November 06, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 6, 2015

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. By Paul Malmont (from the archives by Bill Peschel)
In the 1930s, the heyday of the pulp era, magazines like "Thrilling Detective," "Amazing Stories" and the like kicked ass, took names, and shaped the morals of millions of American readers. The writers who created the heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow worked under impossible deadlines for pennies a word to give us tales of the fantastic, of Oriental criminal gangs, dens of vice and iniquity, weird villains, two-fisted heroes and dames to be ornamental and rescued. At its height, as a pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard reminds us in "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril," 30,000,000 pulps were bought every month. It took the paper shortages of World War II to knock them down, and they were finished off by television in the ‘50s, but they left us a legacy of heroes that include Conan and Tarzan, cult favorite H.P. Lovecraft, and provided the seed that spawned science-fiction and fantasy.Return with me, now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear, with the help of Paul Malmont, who, according to his bio, works in advertising and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two kids.I'm firmly convinced that, at night, he slips out of his brownstone in Park Slope and roams the wilds of Manhattan, battling the forces of evil with mad crimefighting skillz he learned in the mountain fastnesses of Bhutan.Either that, or he's a pulp fiction fan who did a wonderful job of researching the era, and clever enough to cast as his heroes the writers Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, Hubbard (known as "The Flash" because he was quick at the typewriter), with guest appearances by Lovecraft (oh, how I want to tell you how he appears. It's so appropriate!), E.E. "Doc" Smith and Orson Welles.As for the story, well, the title gives it away, and I'm not going to say more. If you're going to read this, it would just spoil the fun. But if you're still on the bubble, I'll say this:
Malmont writes about the pulp fiction world, but the story is told straight. Neat. No purple prose.
The plot makes sense. It's creepy and scary, but doesn't rely on the supernatural.
The writers may have created two-fisted heroes, but they aren't. That's part of the fun.
Malmont plays fair with Hubbard. I'm no fan of Scientology, but I was glad that Hubbard is presented just as you would expect him to be at the beginning of his career. He's ambitious, proud, something of a blowhard, but great sidekick material.
To say more would give away the fun, so let me just say that, if you have any affection for the pulp era, if you smile at the thought of a "GalaxyQuest"-type story set in New York of the Depression-era, or just want a rousing tale without the literary baggage, check out "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril."UPDATE: Thanks to Kaja Foglio, the co-creator of the fabulous "Girl Genius" comic, I found out that Lester Dent's Zeppelin tales are being republished.

Allison and Wes, THE THIN MAN, Dashiell Hammett
Sergio Angelini, A PERFECT MATCH, Jill McGowan
Yvette Banek, WHEN I LAST DIED, Gladys Mitchell
Joe Barone, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, Michael Stanley
Les Blatt, THE CRIMSON CLUE, George Harmon Coxe
Brian Busby, RX FOR MURDER, Jane Layhew
Bill Crider, ONLY THE WICKED, Gary Phillips
Scott Cupp, GESTAPO MARS, Victor Gischler
Martin Edwards, THE MAN WHOSE DREAM CAME TRUE, Julian Symons
Ed Gorman, ON THE LOOSE, Andrew Coburn; MERMAID, Margaret Millar
Richard Horton,  Ace Doubles: The Plot Against Earth, by "Calvin M.Knox" (Robert Silverberg)/Recruit for Andromeda, by Milton Lesser
Jerry House, IN FOR THE KILL, John Lutz
George Kelley, WOMEN CRIME WRITERS, ed. Sarah Weinman
Margot Kinberg, LAIDLAW, William McIlvanney
Rob Kitchin, THE LONG-LEGGED FLY, James Sallis
B.V. Lawson, THE SUMMER SCHOOL MYSTERY, Josephine Bell
Steve Lewis, GIRL ON THE RUN, Edward Aarons
Todd Mason, HAWKSBILL STATION by Robert Silverberg LOOKING BACKWARD 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy
Mathew Paust, THE FLY ON THE WALL, Tony Hillerman
James Reasoner, MARILYN K, Lionel White
Richard Robinson, OVER HER DEAR BODY, Richard Prather
R.T. Lock No. 1, Georges Simenon
Kevin Tipple, DELTA BLUES, ed. Carolyn Haines
TomCat, BLUE MURDER, Harriet Rutland
TracyK, THE MOVING FINGER, Agatha Christie
Westlake Review, Mr. Westlake and the "N" word


Charles Gramlich said...

I miss the Pulp days, even though I didn't actually live through them. What a time

R.T. said...

Thanks, Patti and all contributors, for so generously providing another great reading list. I cannot tell you adequately how much I look forward to this weekly feature. Fridays are beautiful!
BTW, I've featured something from the past at my blog this morning: Lock No. 1 by Georges Simenon. If you have yet discovered the new Penguin reprints of Simenon's books, you have a great treat waiting for you.
All the best from R.T. at

Todd Mason said...

Actually, paperbacks and distributors did more than television to knock off pulps...peperbacks being less easily damaged and not having an actual Sell By date. Digest magazines also were less easily-damaged, being smaller and less cumbersome (and paper-shedding)...and with a slightly less infra dig rep. Even though, as I continue to note in response to sloppy misuse of "pulp" by people who know even less about them than Malmont, paperbacks had their own unfortunate connotation for too many, thanks to similarly exploitive cover illos now so fondly remembered. (Penguin among those avoiding such.)

Headcold in place, life-stress otherwise dissipated just a piece, here comes a typically delayed FFB...

Todd Mason said...

And not to be too much of a grump or a dog in the manger, but "provided the seed that spawned science-fiction and fantasy" is most emphatically Not what pulps did. Even if Hugo Gernsback did introduce the term "science fiction" in the not quite (yet) pulp magazines SCIENCE WONDER STORIES and AIR WONDER STORIES. Both sf and fantasy in their purest form predate the pulps, though the magazines did harbor important and self-sustaining schools of sf and fantasy (including horror) writing, much as they did with westerns, romance fiction, crime fiction and more.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

R.T. - I've been slowly replacing my old Maigrets with the new Penguin editions - half a dozen so far - and will eventually reread them.

Jeff M.

jhegenbe said...

I have this and just can't find time to read it. That's probably a mistake. Thanks for re-invigorating my interest.

Gerard said...

Since my entry is there I just went to the shelf, photographed a couple poems and put them in my post.

Todd Mason said...

The mouse has emerged from the mountain:

FFB: HAWKSBILL STATION, Robert Silverberg; LOOKING BACKWARD 2000-1887, Edward Bellamy

Thanks, Patti!

Graham Powell said...

I've read THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL and the review of it is spot on. It's both a love letter to old pulp stories and a pretty good example of one. An awful lot of fun. And yes, the disreputable L. Ron turns out to be a pretty good guy in this telling.

Todd Mason said...

Patti, the link in the list to my review doesn't work at the moment (Dennis Lien pointed this out to me).

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, a pulp novel! Now, that's a unique sort of story, and I"m glad you featured one of them, Patti. Thanks as well for these other great links, as ever (and for including mine).