Saturday, April 24, 2010

Detective Fiction Weekly, March 19, 1938 / Cleve Adams' Punk

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Get a cover to cover scan of the issue here.

Detective Fiction Weekly was one of the longer running pulps, previously titled Flynn's Weekly, a Munsey pulp. Flynn's ran from September of 1924 to August of 1927, a total of 193 issues and then continued on as DFW until May 1942 another 704 issues. The mag then continued for 26 issues as Flynn's Detective until 1944 and would resume 7 years later with the same volume numbering as Detective Fiction for 6 issues. That's a total of 929 issues of this pulp of which this is the first scanned example. Grab a shovel, peeps, lots of pulp to digitize here. Writers on this pulp included Agatha Christie, Carroll John Daly, Gaston Leroux, Day Keene, Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich, Erle Stanley Gardner, L. Ron Hubbard, Raymond Chandler, Judson Phillips, Frederic Brown, John D. MacDonald, and many, many more.

Besides the fiction and true crime stories, this pulp has a couple other neat features including an Illustrated Crimes spread depicting a historical crime as well as a puzzle section, a confidence scheme investigator, and some nice letters from fans. I particularly enjoy the letter from the reader who writes how a friend of his claims that the pulps are "an opiate" devoid of literary merit and distracting from higher concerns.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with this ish as the first of this title I've read, but one story in here makes it all worth it. As any pop culture archaeologist knows, you have to dig for the nuggets, and for me the standout story in this issue is "Punk" by Cleve F. Adams. I'm not familiar with this writer, and like many pulp authors, can't find much about him. I did find a bit of a bib here, and the magazine uber-resource lists his pulp appearances and also gives a pseudonym of John Spain here. It looks like he was pretty active in the pulps from about 1935-1940.

Also of note is that it looks like he worked alongside William Faulkner on the 1944 film adaptation of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not which I recall as a pretty good Bogey/Bacall film.

Some internet definitions of the word "Punk":


1. Slang.
a. A young person, especially a member of a rebellious counterculture group.
b. An inexperienced young man.
2. Music.
Punk rock.
A punk rocker.
a. Slang. A young man who is the sexual partner of an older man.
b. Archaic. A prostitute.

[Origin unknown.]


Today's first meaning of punk, a small-time hoodlum, developed in the period between the World Wars. And in the late 1970s punk came to designate bizarre clothing and body decorations associated with loud and aggressive rock music. To the general public, it still has an unpleasant taste.

I thought it might have a 19th century street origin, but this small-time hoodlum definition that pops up between the wars seems closest. Of course, if you read the story, you'll come to a fuller sense of who a punk really is.

I just love this story. Alcoholism, rackets, trampy broads, and smash-mouth violence. I've got low tastes, I suppose, but this is the type of Pulp Fiction Tarantino was trying to evoke with his film. The story rotates around a group of three guys that grew up together on the wrong side of the tracks. One's become a weak alky married to a money-grubbing tramp, one has become an honest but run-down cop, and the last is a successful mobster. The dialogue is excellent and the story is gritty and realistic. The pace of the thing gets awkward at the end (I think he had to just finish this one up to get it in the right number of assigned pages - these guys were getting paid peanuts per word after all), but overall this story is a great read that would make a nice hard-boiled noir flick. I also enjoyed the glimpse of the era's prison culture in the true crime piece "Big House Cats."


Contents and samples:

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Evan Lewis said...

This is a fine blog, sir, and a great series on detective pulps. Cleve F. Adams is one of my favorites of this period. I reviewed his first two novels recently, and posted scans of another Detective Fiction Weekly story here:

darwination said...

Thanks for the compliment, Evan. I've read your informative posts on Adams and was inspired to track down Sabotage. I went with the 1944 edition which I found for a mere 1.99 plus shipping (though I was tempted to go with 1952 Signet edition with a painted cover) and eagerly await its arrival. Isn't book hunting in the age of the internet instantly gratifying? In the meantime, thanks for the scan of "Jigsaw," I plan on giving it a go as my bedtime reading this eve...