Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Action Stories, October 1930

Pretty good cover on this first issue of DETECTIVE ACTION STORIES, but the real appeal is inside, with novelettes by Erle Stanley Gardner, J. Allan Dunn, and F.V.W. Mason (billed as Frank V.W. Mason, something I haven't seen too often). Probably a solidly entertaining pulp, with that lineup.


Walker Martin said...

This is a very rare and expensive title. It's one of Popular Publications first pulps and the stories were in the hardboiled tradition. It didn't last long as DIME DETECTIVE became Popular's best detective title.

S. Craig Zahler said...


I enjoy Dime Detective, but Detective Tales/10 Detective Aces have so many very short tales that I find them more formulaic and far less memorable than the ones that are in Dime (though there are good ones to be found in all of these magazines for sure). Is Detective Action tales more like the meatier Dime Detective tales or those other mags?

Walker Martin said...

Craig, DETECTIVE ACTION is more like DIME DETECTIVE with the good stories being novelet length. In fact, somewhere in Raymond Chandler's letters, he talks about studying one of Gardner's novelets in DETECTIVE ACTION. The only problem with DETECTIVE ACTION is that it is hard to find copies and when they do show up, they are expensive at $100 and up. Of course even DIME DETECTIVE from the early 1930's are expensive.

I consider DIME DETECTIVE and BLACK MASK to be the very best detective titles all through the 1930's and 1940's. DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY is good but filling a weekly with quality stories must have been tough and sometimes it shows with sub-par fiction. Street & Smith's DETECTIVE STORY was interesting but on a lower level than the so called Big Three.

To further complicate matters, Popular Publications increased the quality of NEW DETECTIVE and DETECTIVE TALES in the mid 1940's. Somewhere around 1944 or 1945 these two titles started publishing better quality fiction. John D. MacDonald entered the field and was a big force in the late 1940's and early 1950's, especially in the Popular Publication titles of DIME DETECTIVE, BLACK MASK, DETECTIVE TALES and NEW DETECTIVE.

The other titles such as THRILLING DETECTIVE, POPULAR DETECTIVE, the Columbia detective titles, just could not match the high quality of the Popular titles. They were king and even took over the Munsey and Street $ Smith titles. At the end Popular Publications was the last one standing but even they could not fight off the digest revolution that was sweeping the pulp format out of existence.

Soon the best crime fiction would be appearing in MANHUNT, EQMM, AHMM and other digests. Not to mention the original paperbacks led by Gold Medal, Ace, etc.

Sorry, for the long winded burst but I love discussing the fiction magazines and we are lucky James Reasoner keeps nudging us with his posts on ROUGH EDGES.

S. Craig Zahler said...


Thanks for the information.

I have only limited experience reading Black Mask stories, but found what little I've read to be so fast moving and have such lean prose that the "characters" were often just names and nothing more. Most stories were cluttered with twice as many "characters" (names) as they needed and forced twists and lots and lots and lots of exposition. My favorite story in the only Black Mask issue that I read cover to cover (April 1933) was by the brilliant lunatic Norvell W. Page, and a lot of the reason for this is that the lead character had a personality that's different from the same hardboiled guy who stars in the other seven stories and that the scenes were described in far greater detail. I could recount that story now from memory and couldn't tell you much about any other in that issue.

I know this magazine is considered sacred, and I am big pulp reader--obviously---but my favorite crime fiction writers came out after the pulps or hit their peak after the pulps--David Goodis, Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson, George V. Higgins, and Vin Packer. (Though yes, DL Champion, Daly, and Woolrich I really enjoy for different reasons.)

Dime Detective I do enjoy quite a bit and have some more issue on the pile to read. I found the tales in them to have a lot more individuality and atmosphere than what I've read in other crime pulps of the era. On your recommendation, I will look into later Detective Tales and New Detective. If you have a favorite issue of either or both, feel free to get specific.

Walker Martin said...

Craig, I can understand your point about BLACK MASK. I've often felt that the years under Joe Shaw during 1926-1936 were *too* hardboiled, too tough. Due to a lack of humor there was a certain sameness to the fast action. The best writers like Hammett, Chandler, Fred Nebel and Paul Cain, over came this problem but many of the other stories were copying the style of these four writers and suffered from a feeling of being too tough. Joe Shaw should have used humor more like in the story "The Devil Suit".

When Ken White took over BLACK MASK in 1940, it was as though a breath of fresh air blew through the magazine. He encouraged the authors to use humor and be funny. He encouraged witty, bizarre plots and long stories with strange characters. During the 1940's he was in charge of both BLACK MASK and DIME DETECTIVE up to 1948 and basically they were the same magazine using the same authors with the same type of whacky, crazy stories.

I still respect the Shaw years of 1926-1936 because he developed the hardboiled style to perfection, perhaps too perfect without enough humor and wit. But even with these faults, DIME DETECTIVE and perhaps DFW to a lesser extent, were the only detective magazines on the same level or as we are suggesting, perhaps on a higher level, than BLACK MASK. I guess I'm saying you can have too much of a good thing.

Concerning DETECTIVE TALES and NEW DETECTIVE, you can pick just about any issue in the late 1940's and the longer stories are almost on the level of the companion magazine, DIME DETECTIVE and BLACK MASK.

Walker Martin said...

Concerning your other favorite crime writers such as the post pulp writers Jim Thompson, Goodis, Higgins, Willeford, etc. I like these authors also and in fact I have a large paperback collection which deals mainly with the original paperback novels that became popular as the pulps were dying in the early 1950's. I've written about my love of MANHUNT which was the best of the hardboiled crime digest magazines but like Joe Shaw's BLACK MASK, probably too tough and hard.

A fascinating and important subject that we need to keep discussing. I'm sure you already have Pronzini's 1001 MIDNIGHTS which reviews many of the post pulp writers.

S. Craig Zahler said...


Interesting observations---thanks for detailing them.

The lack of humor doesn't bother me as much as the ratio of names/plot points to actual memorable scenes, but I get your point. I like my humor dry, and some of that's in the hard boiled stuff. Carroll John Daly makes me laugh---and I don't mean ironically. His stuff is funny to me. Overall, there's a reason that I strongly strongly prefer Woolrich (not a Black Mask regular) over most crime writers of this era. Woolrich's visuals and atmosphere and sense of irony appeal to me more than almost any crime writer from this era. His best stories have genuine spine-tingling suspense.

I have other Pronzini, though not that one you mentioned. I'll take a look and pick up some later Black Mask and New Detective at some point after I've gotten through some of these issues of Weird Tales, Astounding, Argosy, Spider, Operator #5, Jungle Stories, Dime Mystery, Ace G Man, Strange Detective, and what has certainly become my favorite pulp, Adventure, which I'm reading right now.

Walker Martin said...

Craig: I just read an interesting Cornell Woolrich novelette last night and you are right about his atmosphere and sense of irony. Recently Centipede Press has been reprinting his fiction in special small print runs. I have 14 hardcover books so far, all with nice art and introductions. Of course I have many of the paperbacks editions also.

Ron Goulart knew Woolrich in his final days and wrote about the sad end. It's been reprinted in an old issue of BLOOD n THUNDER. I'm sure Ed Hulse can tell you the issue number.

S. Craig Zahler said...


I'm glad that you dig Woolrich. "Murder at the Automat" (Dime Detective 1937) is very short and pretty simple, but very vivid and a favorite.

Yes, Centipede Press does nice work---they put out a very lovely edition of Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects a few years ago. That's some great science fiction from my second favorite current practitioner in the field. (My #1 is Greg Egan).

In general, I prefer to avoid learning about the personal lives of authors whose work I enjoy, unless they go from writing Spider novels and spicy westerns stories to writing speeches for the President of the United States. I did enjoy visiting Lovecraft's grave in RI and where he lived, but that was more for the atmosphere than to get specific data on his life, about which I know a small amount.

I just read 'Fisherman's Luck' in Adventure (Nov 10 1921) by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur. Wow. Harold Lamb would really be proud of that story, and Lamb is my #1 favorite guy in that magazine by far. I'm happy that I have more Brodeur works in my piles---he might soon join my personal top tier of Adventure writers, which is Lamb, Friel, and Greene. Dunn is close.

If you have any favorite Brodeur tales, feel free to recommend. Like Lamb, this is another guy whose work seems like a more thoughtful and better-plotted Robert E Howard precursor, though yes, I'm definitely a REH fan.

James Reasoner said...


If you can ever make your way to Texas in June, you should check out Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains, held every year on the weekend closest to June 11. I'll be headed down there next week for my annual visit with REH fans from all over the world.

Black Dog Books has reprinted at least one volume of stories by Brodeur. It's on my shelves but I haven't read it yet.

Walker Martin said...

Harold Lamb is one of my top favorite writers also. I first discovered him in the mid-1960's when his Khlit collection was published and received good reviews. At that time I was just collecting old SF magazines and never dreamed that someday I would find all the great back issues of ADVENTURE(1910-1953). I figured as an adult magazine, they just didn't save back issues like the young men who collected the SF pulps. Starting in 1972 at the first Pulpcon I found out just how wrong I was!

I like the ADVENTURE authors that you list and in addition I recommend Robert Simpson who wrote a series of stories about Marsden & Co, trading posts in Africa. Also a big favorite of mine is Leonard Nason who wrote crazy stories about WW I. I can identify with his goldbrick soldiers just trying to stay alive and avoid duty. I served two years as a draftee and was not happy. Also Bill Adams wrote some excellent stories about his life at sea. There were around 40 serials and ocmplete novels by Hugh Pendexter that I found to be very enjoyable and full of great scenes based on American history in the 1700's and 1800's.

In many respects The Campfire letter column was one of the best things in the magazine. The editor cut out the letters praising the magazine and instead published letters from old indian fighters; men who actually served under sail; what he called Typical Tropical Tramps, who were adventurers who roamed the world over. I know you are familiar with all the above but perhaps others might be interested in ADVENTURE. In my opinion the very best of the fiction magazines.

S. Craig Zahler said...


I'm not often in Texas, but if I am, I might try to visit the Robert E. Howard event. Certainly if you are in NY feel free to reach out. After reading lots of works by guys like Lamb and Friel and CA Smith as well as more Edgar Rice Burroughs my desire to read tons of REH is a little bit diminished, since I find him less consistent than these guys, though I continue to explore his works, and he was the very first pulp author I read as a little kid.


First off, congratulations on surviving your service.

I liked the one long Leonard Nason novel that I read in Adventure---it showed a good grasp of psychology, subtlety, and some good humor.

I'll keep an eye out for Robert Simpson and Hugh Pendexter, whose works I can't accurately comment on from the short things I've read in the past, though the trading posts in Africa thing sounds quite promising!