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.