You’ve got to hand it to the people at Carroll & Graf. A few years after all the jerks who wanted to read pulp just because they saw Pulp Fiction have moved on to raising kids or something, the publisher continues to chunk out hard-boiled collections.

I’ve got some of their other collections, Pure Pulp and The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, but American Pulp is the only one that fits in my coat pocket. And I read it cover to cover.

The quality here is high, and each story is distinct and memorable enough so that you won’t need a bookmark, even after laying off for a few days between reads.

There’s several name writers here: John D. MacDonald, Donald E. Westlake, Evan Hunter, Mickey Spillane and Marcia Muller.

MacDonald turns in the standout of the collection, “In a Small Hotel.” A psychotic customer on the lam takes the proprietor and some of her friends hostage. When they overpower the customer, they turn on each other when find his stash of embezzled money. The lines of trust drawn and redrawn and strong characters loom in the reader’s mind for the rest of the book (it’s the third story in on this collection of 35).

In my mind, any book with another farcical romp by Norbert Davis alone is worth the price of admission. Davis’s “Murder in Two Parts” will satisfy fans of his slap-sticky murder stories.

There’s a lot of other things to like here: a gem of a story by Donald Wandrei, “Tick Tock” (like Davis’s story, originally published in Black Mask); a sharp western-mystery, “Lynching in Mixville,” by contemporary author L.J. Washburn; a typically awkward tale of insecurity from David Goodis, “The Plunge,” and a fine ironic ditty from Fredric Brown, “Cry Silence.”

But there’s also the lousy “Doing Colfax” from modern-day writer Ed Bryant. Ed Gorman says his writing is “innovative and stunning,” but the example here only portrays two low-lifes committing a murder with no remorse, and worse, little distinction. I might be missing something here, but I doubt it. I’m pretty sharp.

The collection also ends on a bum note with Richard Matheson’s “The Frigid Flame,” a 70-page relative opus on a murderous twist that readers will see through far too early on.

Gorman, Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg have done all the little things right, seamlessly integrating stories from the 70s through the 90s in with the pulp era. They even wrote short bios for all the authors. I’m a big fan of that.

At a little more than two cents a page, you can’t not buy and read this book.

American Pulp
Edited by Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg
550 pages, $12.95
Carroll & Graf, 1997

Authored by Ed Lin.

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