Bringing together new essays with material published over the last decade, this new volume in the Stark House Reference range more than lives up to its subtitle: Essays on Crime Fiction Writers from the ’50s through to the 90s. Part of the material first appeared as introductions to earlier Stark House reprints for such hardboiled authors as James Hadley Chase, Peter Rabe, Wade Miller, Charles Williams, WR Burnett and the recently departed Ed Gorman. But it is also a personal look at the trials and tribulations experienced writing such material .
I submit this review for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog.
Novelist and critic Rick Ollerman pretty much had me with his opening salvo, a piece that looks at how the work of Harlan Ellison fired off his imagination as a young reader as that is the author that pretty much did it for me too in me in my mid teens. Ellison is not only celebrated for his ‘grab them by the throat’ style but also for the confessional essays and introductions he writes to accompany his work. What Ollerman is trying to capture here, with long and convoluted blocks of text that brim with energy and enthusiasm, is that sense of discovery that comes when you find a voice that really speaks to you. And how thrilling that can be, especially if that author is not on your school syllabus or one that is likely to have been on your parents’ bookshelves, but one that you have truly discovered for yourself.
And this is really where Ollerman scores and comes into his own – James Hadley Chase and WR Burnett were very popular in their day but were not necessarily taken seriously as authors. Ollerman tries to redress this in the extended essays found here (and which previously adorned Stark House reprints of their work), but also looks at much less popular writers, most especially Peter Rabe. One can feel quite propriatorial when one discovers a treasure but if you really love literature, then of course you also want to share the sense of wonder and excitement that the uncovering of a new book can bring. And this is what Ollerman does again and again – it is impossible not to be seduced by his heady exhilaration. I recommend this book of essays to those who love books and it really doesn’t matter if you are into crime fiction and hardboiled noir or not, because although there is much to learn here about the books and authors who flourished in paperback especially in the 50s and 60s, this is as much about how amazing it can be to find writers who really speak to you as a reader. And the agony and the ecstasy of trying to share that with other people when you try to write your thoughts on writers and their works and try to strike that balance between fully informing a new reader about what is in store for them without actually spoiling that most special of all things – their first time.
For all his abundant enthusiasm, the one thing that is missing in this volume is space dedicated to women authors. I would love to see Ollerman train his critical sights on the likes of Helen Nielsen, Margaret Millar, Charlotte Armstrong, Dorothy B. Hughes, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, Patricia Highsmith, ‘Vin Packer‘ (aka Marijane Meaker) – and I would love to know his thoughts on the likes of Shirley Jackson too! With luck, there will be a next time!
Hardboiled, Noir and Gold Medals: Essays on Crime Fiction Writers from the ’50s through to the ’90s
By Rick Ollerman
ISBN: 978-1944520328 (paperback), 295 pages, $17.95
To find out more about the author and his books, you should visit: http://starkhousepress.com/ollerman.php