|Bill Pronzini at the time of
Son of Gun in Cheek
Meanwhile I finally got round to reading Bill Pronzini's Son of Gun in Cheek (1987), the follow-up to his classic, Edgar-nominated study of "alternative" crime fiction (stuff so bad it's good"), Gun in Cheek.
I should have read this a long time ago. Like its predecessor it's very funny and genuinely informative too. I can't recommend it enough.
Gun in Cheek was originally published just over thirty years ago, in 1982. It was reprinted in 1987 by Mysterious Press, who also published Son the same year.
Why both these books haven't been reprinted since I don't know, but that's publishing for you.
Pronzini cheerfully admits that Son is a "hugger-mugger," but, he adds, it's a "funny hugger-mugger." And he's right.
|even cheekier than Gun in Cheek!
Pronzini also takes a look at sex--bad sex, of course--in mystery fiction (it's not hard to find this chapter, it's called Sex, Sex and More Sex!) and the works of two alternative masters, the hard-boiled Michael Avallone and the--well, it's hard to say what he is, exactly--Harry Stephen Keeler.
As for the novels Pronzini discusses, my personal "favorite" is his exploration of the astoundingly abysmal The Face of Stone (1952), by Sydney Horler.
Horler was a truly awful thriller writer, inexplicably popular in England. I will defend the thriller king Edgar Wallace to the death but as a writer Horler was utterly hopeless (actually he seems to have been so as a person as well).
As Pronzini puts it: "Sydney Horler was, as they used to say in the old days, a caution. An outspoken caution, a priggish caution, a racist caution, an elitist caution, and an alternative caution."
I don't mince words about Horler because Horler never minced words about--anything. Offended by a review Dorothy L. Sayers gave one of his books, Horler struck back in print in a characteristic fashion.
"I know I haven't the brains to write a proper detective novel," he declared huffily, "but there is no class of literature for which I feel a deeper personal loathing."
Not altogether surprising that attitude, really, from the man who, according to Pronzini (and he's right!) "devised some of the most illogical and inane plots ever committed to paper."
|not Stephen (see left), but Sydney Horler
There are great quotations from alternative masterworks scattered all though the book (Pronzini likens them to gold nuggets and himself to a prospector), such as this one from James Corbett's The Merrivale Mystery (1929):
The look on Stephen's face was distinctly unpleasant. It contained all the malignity of hate, all the malevolence of evil, and even at a normal moment the features were not prepossessing.
The chapter on hard-boiled author Michael Avallone (the "nabob of non-sequiturs," among titles Pronzini bestows upon him) is fascinating. I might have thought that Avallone was deliberately writing the way he wrote as a spoof, but apparently not (some of his books, by the way, are available to Kindle on Amazon at really low prices; I have purchased several).
Sometimes "he outdoes himself," in the alternative writing way, declares Pronzini of Avallone:
Usually when he's dealing with one of his favorite subjects.
Patriotism and/or right-wing politics.
Nobody writes about breasts the way Avallone does, with such flair, such reverence, such passion. Not that he neglects thighs, of course. Or calves. Or hips.
Eyes, noses, cheeks, lips. Even ears. Described lovingly, eloquently, innovatively.
You'll have to read the book and see for yourselves, people. This is a family blog, dammit.
In his chapter on mystery book titles, Pronzini ruminates on the good old days, when mystery publishers demanded that titles always have such giveaway words as murder, death, body, corpse, case, mystery, etc., so readers would have no doubt the book was actually a murder mystery (god forbid they mistakenly have stumbled on something else).
How dense can you get? Or were they afraid that the first title made it sound like a sex novel?
Pronzini laments that no one ever used the titles Death Takes a Stroll Down Memory Lane or Murder Invites Some Friends Over for a Few Beers. I agree! But they did use, amazingly, Murder Does Light Housekeeping (I'm seeing a skeleton in a cap and apron, wielding a feather duster). Also Death Turns a Trick and Murder Makes Us Gay.
Mysterious Press calls Son of Gun in Cheek, like its predecessor, "an affectionate guide" to alternative crime fiction. It really is too. Pronzini's love for and knowledge of the crime and mystery genre shines through every page. You can tell he really enjoyed these books--if not quite in the way their authors may have intended!
You'll enjoy Son of Gun in Cheek--exactly as its author intended. Get yourself a copy, and laugh and learn.