Monday, August 1, 2011

The Great Pulp Fiction Treasure Hunt

Call me General Zaroff.*

For those of us who like old-school pulp fiction, antique stores are a treasure trove. They are real-life treasure chests to be opened, explored, and plundered, albeit with honest cash versus theft. The more I learn about pulp fiction, the more authors and titles I learn, and the more I keep an eye out for those hidden nuggets of pulp goodness.

Donald Lam and Bertha Cool are among those gems for which I constantly search. Honestly, I had never heard of them until I inherited a box of old paperbacks from my grandfather. Among all the westerns lay some Ellery Queen, Perry Mason, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and a couple from author A. A. Fair. According to the covers, A. A. Fair was the name Erle Stanley Gardner used to write the stories of Cool and Lam. It was then, on that day, I made a connection: Cool and Lam were the characters from the third book from Hard Case Crime, Top of the Heap. Since the Hard Case Crime books were my personal library for my pulp fiction self-education, my esteem for my granddad grew knowing that he had Cool and Lam in his library.

I read a few stories and quickly grew to love these characters and Gardner’s style (actually Lam’s since he’s the narrator). Thus, I made the decision to search for these old books, 29 in all. Here’s where the fun begins.

With the help of the internet, I could find each and every book I don’t have. I could have them all on my bookshelves in two weeks. But what’s the fun in that? I’m being honest here. How many times have you gone to a used bookstore, perused the shelves, and found a book by your favorite author? You know how cool that is, that feeling of the find? We’re all a little like Indiana Jones here, I think it’s safe to say.

I made the decision with the Cool and Lam books to find them myself rather than having them sent to me. There’s joy in the search. I had some of that joy over the weekend when I was down in Bill Crider’s neck of the woods, Alvin, Texas. There’s a great antique mall down there and one of the booths is filled with old pulp fiction. I’m talking Ace doubles (usually SF), old magazines, and the like. I found about five or 6 Cool and Lam books, including a first edition of Top of the Heap, the title Hard Case Crime reprinted. I pulled out my trusty list from my pocket—yes, really—and compared the titles on hand to the titles I still needed. Lo and behold, I found four I needed. (I also found a Day Keene book, Sleep with the Devil) A couple of them—Crows Can’t Count (#10) and Fools Die on Friday (#11)—brought me up to eleven the number of titles I have in a row. With only 29 total books and no one writing anymore, I have also made the decision to read them slowly, savoring each one, and, while I’m at it, read them in order.

The thing I’m coming down to is this: I bought #10 and #11 (and the Keene)…and put the others back. That leaves 13 vacancies on my bookshelf, but that also leaves 13 times in my future where I’ll have the joy of the find.

Anyone else do stuff like this?

*Bonus to you readers who recognized the name of the antagonist from Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” who let his prey evade capture twice before the ending.


Unknown said...

I've browsed that booth a few times. I even bought a couple of pulps there, though I think they're priced too high.

Jerry House said...

You also have to get the variants, Scott -- the books with sections rewritten to keep the series up to date. (Mainly the ones with Donald Lam in the service during world War II. Some may also have been revised to eliminate non-PC negro dialect; I know this happened with the Masons, I'm not sure about the Cool/Lams.)

Scott D. Parker said...

Bill - One was $6.50, the other $2.50. Guess it averaged out. Was another booth with old, coverless comics that I would have bought just to read. From the 60s and early 70s. Even with the sale, they wanted $1.50/comic. Just ain't gonna do that.

Jerry - Wow. I didn't know about that, the variants. One of the reasons I'm reading these books in order is to see how they changed when Lam went off to war. Any idea about when there were re-written?

pattinase (abbott) said...

More and more, I never find an unusual book in a bookstore because they also sell online and any interesting choices go before I ever hit the store.

Kent Morgan said...

I recently posted on Rara-Avis about two large pulp finds. The lots included Crows Can't Count, Give 'Em the Ax and Traps Need Fresh Bait by A.A.Fair. I have eight or nine now. I agree with you that the hunt is what it's all about. My father read Brett Halliday and I set to find the books that were missing. I eventually found them all and now look for older copies and ones with different covers and did find three in those finds. I'm also trying to complete my John D. MacDonald collection and have three to go. George Harmon Coxe is now near the top of my to-find list because my father also read him. I also remember Coxe because his main character's first name was Kent (Murdock) so we have the same initials.