Just got a note from William Denton, of RARA-AVIS fame, who says, “You probably won’t remember, but in February 2008 you very generously took me on a solo Hammett tour, including going up into Bill Arney’s apartment, which made the trip out there one of the best of my life.”
Bill brings me up to date on some Mean Streets stuff: “I recently got my PI license and have been reading about PIs. I was reading Tink Thompson’s book Gumshoe and was interested to see how much Hammett talk there was in it, especially due to David Fechheimer. If I’d seen Fechheimer’s name before, I’d forgotten. It’s remarkable how strong an effect Hammett had on people that he inspired them to become PIs — me included, though I’m not going to move to California, or even change careers.
“Fechheimer had no Wikipedia entry, so I made one. If there are any other secondary or tertiary sources you’d recommend for improving the article, please let me know. Feel free to spread the word around — the more people that see it, the better; I hope it’ll get attention from others who will beef it up even more.”
The adventure novel King Solomon’s Mines was not H. Rider Haggard’s first book, but it introduced the protagonist Allan Quatermain. In between King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain he wrote She.
Another nugget about H. Rider Haggard that I find unique, something that he is not often given credit for starting, is that in Allan Quatermain — only the second Quatermain book — Haggard killed off the character. He would spend the rest of his career writing additional Allan Quatermain stories or novels to fill in the gaps in his life.
Skip forward several decades and Michael Moorcock, in his first book, The Stealer of Souls, introduces Elric. In the second Elric book, Stormbringer, Moorcock kills off Elric and then spends the rest of his career (still ongoing) writing Elric stories and novels to fill in the gaps in his life.
David Gemmell did them one better, killing off his most famous character, Druss the Legend, in his first book, Legend. Gemmell continued writing Druss novels for the rest of his career, filling in the gaps in his life.
Notice a trend?
They’re all British authors. Must be something in all the tea they drink over there.
Seriously, I do not believe that anyone has given Haggard credit for originating this pattern.
Kent Harrington pops in a link to a CrimeReads article about how the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wolfed down a steady diet of hardboiled American pulp crime fiction. Not something your average guy on the street would be expecting to hear, I bet.
Good article, surf over and read or skim as much as interests you. A high point for me was the section where Wittgenstein singles out Black Mask regular Norbert Davis and one of his Doan and Carstairs mysteries for special praise. He was thinking about sending Davis a letter telling him how much he liked his work, but that didn’t happen. Davis committed suicide in 1949 at the age of 40.
Ed Price — prolific pulpster E. Hoffmann Price — once told me that for awhile Davis was one of the writers in their circle (around Redwood City) who’d show up for parties. He called him Norbie.
The Comments section, by the way, is also interesting, as all these Wittgenstein fans try to digest the pulp info. One even asks if someone someday maybe could track down the Norbert Davis writings.
I figure Brian simply noticed the bit in the course of his usual perambulating about the web, and its the sort of info that would attract his attention. Or is it more than mere coincidence?
Brian writes, “I had never heard that Sir Walter Scott’s mother was buried as dead, awoke when thieves or thief tried to steal from her body and bore Walter five years later.”
Truth or fiction? You decide. Check it out in an old comic book feature by the seminal figures of Simon and Kirby. With the success of the Marvel Universe movies, Jack Kirby must be one of the most imitated artists of all time.
“Cool story,” Leno notes. “Wonder what it would take to bring Scott’s novels back from the dead?”
Every week or three the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook starts mulling over some bookish matter, and often enough it leads him to H. Rider Haggard:
It’s weird sometimes how references to one book or author show up multiple times in a short space of time. Arthur Machen wrote of his enjoyment of reading Sir Walter Scott in Far Off Things and then Robin H. Smiley wrote about Ivanhoe in his “Books into Films” column in the current issue of Firsts.
I had not given a single thought to Scott or Ivanhoe probably in decades, and then the subject comes up twice within one week. Just odd coincidence I guess.
I saw the movie, but still have no desire to struggle through the book. I recognize the importance of Scott and Alexander Dumas in the development of the adventure novel, but it is really hard to read through their 1,000+ page novels that move so slowly.
I am not a big H. Rider Haggard fan, but what Haggard did with King Solomon’s Mines was write an adventure novel that moved along at a faster pace with more action and less background detail piling up and slowing down the story, and his imitators followed suit.
I recall reading just a year or two ago how Tim Willocks stated that he eliminated about 1,500 pages from his first draft of The Twelve Children of Paris because it was all background information that he had researched about sixteenth century Paris that just bogged down the story he wanted to tell. In the mid-nineteenth century all those pages would have seen print!
In re: Haggard, neither I nor anyone else can underestimate the importance of She in lost race fiction or King Solomon’s Mines in adventure fiction.
Being important, however, does not always mean being good or even readable.
Look at all the pulp fanboys who gush over Carroll John Daly as the “creator” of hardboiled detective fiction — and equate him with Hammett. In terms of writing ability, that’s a joke of course. But he may have been first.
The truth of the matter with lost race fiction is that DeMille’s A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder was written before She but published shortly afterward. He too may have been first, but thus is such fame rewarded 140 years later. Hammett. Haggard. Most haven’t heard of Daly or DeMille.
Back to the original point, a number of Haggard’s imitators wrote better and far more vividly than he did, and eventually the genre moved over to America where Edgar Rice Burroughs took over and really made it exciting.
I will give you the classic case. Haggard wrote a novel titled People of the Mist. I have tried to read it twice, but it bores me less than a third of the way in.
Arthur A. Nelson took one slice of the plot and wrote Wings of Danger, an incredibly brilliant and exciting page-turning lost race extravaganza that is easily one of the two or three best lost race novels ever written. It’s a great favorite among Robert E. Howard fans, so you know with comparison to REH it can’t be boring!
There are numerous other examples of books where authors borrowed Haggard plot germs and wrote far, far better books than he did. I acknowledge his place in history, but please don’t try to make me read his books. The usually more-perceptive Deuce Richardson is a big Haggard fan. Curiously, others still find him readable as well.
As is his wont, Brian Leno was moping around on eBay the other day and noticed a copy of the Arkham House edition of A. E. Coppard’s Fearful Pleasures — it sold for $108.27. The trick angle was that a stamp at the bottom of the inside dustwrapper flap IDed it as a BOOK CLUB EDITION.
Brian realized that he’d never heard of any kind of Book Club Edition for any Arkham, and asked me about it. To the best of my memory, I’d never heard about it, either.
Well, if you’ve got a mystery, you go to Sherlock Holmes, right? — or in the case of bizarre Arkham arcana, what I do is to forward the query to Paul Dobish.
“I am not sure which of the ‘remainder’ entity/entities was/were actually involved — Greenberg’s Pick-A-Book or Readers Service Book Club or whichever,” Paul responded, “but Derleth remaindered some titles (at least two, but reportedly several more).
“The Arkham House copies were ‘regular’ copies, but the remainder house sold them with the pre-printed prices clipped and with (in blank ink) BOOK CLUB EDITION — even though they were not really such — rubber-stamped to the bottom of the front flap.
“Just to be clear: every BOOK CLUB EDITION from Arkham I have seen has been price-clipped. I do not know whether the clipping was done at Arkham or by the remainder entity.
“The two ‘common’ Arkham House BOOK CLUB EDITION titles are Coppard’s Fearful Pleasures and Wakefield’s The Clock Strikes Twelve. Over the years I have seen several copies of each offered for sale, with the Coppard perhaps more often than the Wakefield. I have an example of each in my Arkham collection.
“However, I know of one collector who wrote to tell me that he had a BOOK CLUB EDITION of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland — that is the only other such title that I recall ever hearing about actually existing. Which is not to say that others do not.
“Derleth’s was not the only small/specialty press to do so. All of the remaindered titles were offered at a discount (sometimes significantly so) from their MSRP.
“Some FPCI publications were also remaindered. Some were bound books, some with and some without the original/new Dust Wrappers. Some were sheets that were bound (and in at least some instances in black bindings that stated Gnome Press instead of FPCI as the publisher).
“At least one title even had a new Readers Service Book Club title leaf printed and bound in.
“And some FPCI DWs were rubber-stamped BOOK CLUB EDITION similarly to the AH titles. A number of other such titles were advertised back then (1950s-ish), but I have never managed to acquire any such.
“As to their apparent rarity (or even their actual existence), I do not know.
“I happen to have a Readers Service Book Club piece that offered titles from a number of the small/specialty presses — e.g., Arkham House, FPCI, Fantasy Press, Gnome Press. But in this particular piece the books were offered at full MSRP.
“For example, Hornbook for Witches was offered at the original $2.10 Arkham MSRP. (Although it was noted that ordering qualified you for some kind of bonus credit. Hence, the ‘book club’ aspect.)
“Alas, I do not have every such offering from every remainder seller of the period. So I am unable to confirm who offered what specifically and at what specific — discount versus full MSRP — pricing and at what dates.”
In the ordinary course of book collecting, purists avoid any dustjacket that is price-clipped.
Remainder markings also severely dilute the desirability of an item. Spray painting the bottom of a text block — or, just pulled off the shelf to my left, the little red Random House building logo stamped onto the bottom of the text block in my copy of the 1974 Random House first edition of The Continental Op. A remainder mark. Meaning this copy isn’t worth as much as a first without a remainder mark, but if you’re picking up a book to read and don’t mind saving a few bucks, hey, that’s the appeal of the remainder market.
In the case of Arkham House, it’s possible Derleth invoked enough magic during his run that it negates the normal remainder stigma. If you’ve got to collect each and every variation. . . .
But not every Arkham Completist is tempted. Our pal John D. Haefele reports, “I don’t actually have, or want, these books. Not different editions, or modified printings (as happened to Portals of Tomorrow), but last out of first issued, with BOOK CLUB EDITION stamped on the existing jacket.
“By the way, I think Derleth remaindered some issues of The Arkham Sampler, too.”
I find the remainder angle highly interesting as part of the 1950s saga, when the fantasy small presses were turning belly-up one after another — and it reminds me of the bit in the Sam Moskowitz memoir of Derleth about how he almost sank himself with these editions of Brit authors that regular customers of Arkham House didn’t want.
Haefele agrees, of course, but notes: “Only one of about a DOZEN different obstacles and setbacks, any ONE of which would have stopped a lesser man dead in his tracks.”
I’m looking forward to Haefele’s August Derleth of Arkham House, and for me that bleak era of the 1950s looms as potentially the most fascinating in the history.
I tossed out The Tamony Bookplate found in one of my Knopf yellowback Machens the other day. Among other especially interesting plates I’ve ended up with, I was telling Brian Leno about one I remembered with a skeleton, a road, a mountain. . . .
(And books, yes — it’s a bookplate.)
Turned out that one also lurks in a yellowback, a 1926 first printing of Machen’s The Anatomy of Tobacco.
Every couple of years or so I get asked about a book someone has read and forgotten the title of — almost always a book that is a mystery set in San Francisco. Hey, you do the seminal statement, people figure out who to ask.
But even I have by no means read every mystery set in Frisco — they are legion — so when Rofiah Breen asked about a novel the other day, I just didn’t know. But I told her I could put the question out on Mean Streets and see if someone else recognizes the plot as something they’ve read. If you’ve got it, let me know.
Here’s Rofiah’s description of that lost book out of the past:
I am looking for a book my husband and I read in Indonesia when we lived up in the mountains on a tea estate in the ’70s.
It belonged to the Indonesian owners of the main house. They had a row of some fifteen or twenty English books in their bedroom. We climbed the hill back to our bamboo cabin and read and read those books.
I thought I’d remember the title — or at least the name of the writer. Of course, I forgot it. So did my husband. I’ve searched for it endlessly since.
When I returned to the tea estate in 2004, the husband was dying. I of course couldn’t intrude, though, of course, I tried to.
I’m wondering if you could help me find the name of the book or its author. I grew up in San Francisco (born 1942; left in 1965 to go teach in Newman,Ca). Reading the book in Indonesia in 1971 or so was a big deal: I just walked through S.F. the entire time.
The book is about a guy who at night is walking downtown on whatever street will take him to the wharf, where he’s planning to throw himself into the water and die. He’s used his last dime. Has no money whatsoever. It’s probably mid-fifties. Is he on Geary Street? Bush? Sutter? I’m not sure.
But behind him is a well-heeled couple who stop him and want him to exchange identity with the man (of the well-heeled couple) who is supposedly the long-lost relative of some fabulously rich San Francisco family.
Suddenly, overnight he’s got a place to stay. (I believe he had been staying at some hotel on Broadway for a few nights up to then.)
Now he’s with this couple, being drilled on all the events he is supposed to know if he is this other guy. He learns it all and greets his long-lost family who take him in.
Of course it’s a ruse.
The couple have, I believe, murdered the actual person our hero is assuming the identity of.
Why can I not forget it, this book? It was just great. I was there. I knew every footstep and mark on the sidewalk.
But the Supplement — done as a contribution to the Esoteric Order of Dagon a.p.a. — would push his start date all the way back to 1997.
Feeling that he might be showing disloyalty to The Cimmerian, Haefele agonized over the question and later told me, “I consider my first article in The Cimmerianto have been my first professional sale, and my first book published by The Cimmerian Press my first professional or true book.”
Of his numbered opus for the EOD, he said, “The Supplement was my first attempt at a book, an unfortunate not-ready-for-prime-time vanity publication. . . .”
I don’t know — Buy It Now for $100 I’m sure is steeper a price than you’ll find for most items which might be categorized as EOD zines. I imagine it’s much, much more than you’d be charged for entire mailings of the EOD.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. Either limited booklet could well serve as Haefele’s first book.
And however much he may agonize over the question in spare moments, neither Haefele nor I will decide which item kicks off his run. The call will be made by the collectors, in the open marketplace.
In 1977 Don Herron began leading The Dashiell Hammett Tour, now the longest-running literary tour in the nation. On this site you’ll find information on current walks — dates, where to meet, arranging tours by appointment — plus a hard-boiled blog with news, reviews of books and film, and a dash of noir.