Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bodyguard - Roger Torrey

Roger Torrey was one of the leading authors of hardboiled detective fiction for the pulps during the Thirties and Forties, starting out in BLACK MASK and writing for a number of other pulps as well, including SPICY DETECTIVE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, and Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY. This new volume from Black Dog Books, BODYGUARD, is the first major collection of his work.

Torrey’s work has two major strengths. One is the easy-going, conversational style in which the stories are told. According to Black Dog Books’ editor and publisher, Tom Roberts, reading a story by Roger Torrey is like sitting in a bar somewhere and listening to a guy spin an exciting yarn about something that happened to him. The fact that the guy is usually a private eye, and the story concerns some bizarre case mixed up with murder and beautiful babes, is a real plus.

The colorful characterization of the narrators in most of Torrey’s stories is their other strong point. Despite the fact that they all have different names, those narrators are basically the same person: a private detective, often an ex-cop and a lone operative, smart but not infallible, tough but no superman, basically a decent sort but not above a little chicanery and lechery. He’ll get beaten up when the odds are against him, he’ll be fooled by an attractive woman from time to time, and he’ll muddle his way through cases with dogged determination as much as anything else. But in the end, he comes up with the killer every time, of course.

Torrey’s background included stints as a piano player in nightclubs and an organist in movie theaters, and his stories often have some sort of show business background. He was a heavy drinker, and so are many of his characters. Despite their sometimes oddball plot elements, the stories have an air of authenticity about them, including a fatalism that foreshadows Torrey’s early death. (He wasn’t even 40 yet when he passed away, probably from alcoholism.)

BODYGUARD reprints eleven stories, several of them long novellas. While not all of them are what you’d call rigorously plotted, they’re all very entertaining and enjoyable. The book also includes an informative introduction by long-time author and editor Ron Goulart, as well as the first-ever bibliography of Torrey’s work. Torrey hasn’t actually been forgotten – reprints of his stories have popped up in anthologies over the years – but he’s certainly been neglected. BODYGUARD is the first step in remedying that situation. I had a great time reading it, and if you’re a fan of hardboiled pulp fiction, I highly recommend it.

13 comments:

David Cranmer said...

Is it true that Torrey worked with his wife, pounding out manuscripts all the time passing a bottle back and forth between them? I'm thinking I read that in the Big Book of Pulps but I'm not sure.

beb said...

According to the Introduction in "Bodyguard" the rule was that the first one finished got to start drinking first.

David Cranmer said...

beb, Thanks. That was the story about their relationship I remember reading. What a couple!

I just ordered BODYGUARD. A must have for the collection.

Brian Drake said...

Thanks for the post, James! This is good news!

And don't forget that Torrey usually finished typing first, would grab the bottle, and berate his wife while she typed.

Brian Drake said...

Also, check out the website. They have other pulp related material either out or coming up, including a couple of Lester Dent volumes that have nothing to do with Doc Savage.

Richard Moore said...

I look forward to getting this book. Torrey earned a living for years playing piano in theaters, nightclubs and dives and was as tough as his characters. I used to be in touch with one of his half-brothers who never knew Roger but had considerable information on him. Among other things he gave me a copy of Roger's death certificate and acute alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver were listed as causes of his death. He and his wife (who wrote romance stories) had recently moved to Florida.

Richard Robinson said...

Another one to order post haste. That looks like a Norman Saunders cover to me. I love this stuff. Thanks very much for the post, James!

James Reasoner said...

According to Goulart's intro, the female author who lived with him in Florida (and who isn't identified in the book) wasn't actually his wife but just lived with him.

The art on the front cover is by J.W. Scott. Don't know where it originally appeared.

I have all those Lester Dent collections published by BDB but haven't gotten around to reading them yet. Tom has a lot more good stuff in the works, too.

Evan Lewis said...

I knew Torrey was good. The big surprise in this book for me is the bibliography. The guy was wildy prolific - maybe ten times more than I'd imagined.

Tom said...

The woman, was Helen Ahern, who wrote for many of the love pulps.

Richard Moore said...

Well, I will be interested in reading Ron Goulart's introduction. I have great respect for his pioneering work in preserving pulp history (and for many, many hours of reading pleasure). And thanks Tom for naming Helen Ahern, which I had not bothered to do in my previous post.

As for their status as husband and wife, I cannot say for certain they went through a marriage ceremony. I can say for certain that she identified herself as Helen Ahern Torrey to the Florida authorities and is listed as his wife on his death certificate. I can also say that she was accepted as his wife by the Torrey family and notified them of his death. She was also identified as his wife by his hometown newspaper in Oregon.

But those are details. Most of all I am excited about getting a book of Torrey stories (which I have just ordered) and thanks to all involved!

George said...

This looks like another book I'm going to have to buy!

ARCHAVIST said...

Those pulp had some exciting looking covers.