There’s a line of copy on the back cover of a recent volume reprinting this novel and three others in the same series that really sums up “Serrano of the Stockyards”:
Glorious Mayhem! Blazing Tommy Guns! Gangland Carnage! And a Bunch of Swell-Looking Frails!
Who could resist that? Some of you reading this, probably, but not me. I go for this stuff, see?
I’ve never read a lot of gangster pulp, but the short novels featuring Chicago mobster Big Nose Serrano come highly recommended, and they’ve been reprinted by the fine small press publisher Off-Trail Publications. The series originally appeared in the pulps GANGSTER STORIES, GREATER GANGSTER STORIES, and THE GANG MAGAZINE in the early Thirties, beginning with “Serrano of the Stockyards” in the May 1930 issue of GANGSTER STORIES.
As Will Murray notes in his fine introduction to the first reprint volume (which also includes “The Gang Buster”, “The Gunless Gunman”, and “Dames, Dice and the Devil”), this initial entry in the series is a blatant retelling of CYRANO DE BERGERAC, transported to the Chicago underworld. All the characters from Edmund Rostand’s play are there in recognizable form, most notably Big Nose Serrano, a singing, gunslinging, poetry-spouting mobster who’s the deadliest man with a gat in town. Unknown to any of the criminals he associates with, Big Nose is really an undercover operative for the District Attorney and is bent on wiping out the Chicago mobs. According to the introduction, this angle is dispensed with in subsequent stories, and to be honest, it doesn’t play much of a part in this first yarn, which finds Serrano helping another gangster woo the beautiful Annie, the moll he really loves.
As you can probably tell, the style used by author Anatole Feldman in this story is contagious. The prose is fast-paced, definitely over the top, and great fun. I don’t think Feldman himself took any of this too seriously. He seems to be enjoying himself, and as a reader, I did, too. I’ve read very little by Feldman in the past, but based on this story, he’s a pretty good writer. Although very different from Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner stories, the Big Nose Serrano saga seems to have the same sort of goofy charm. I plan to read more of the stories soon, and in the meantime, “Serrano of the Stockyards” gets a high recommendation from me if you’re a pulp fan.