Ever go to some low-rent used bookstore and notice tables (sometimes outside) of battered, stained books with the corners clipped off, indicating the bookstore'strying to get rid of them and won't trade you back for them? They're usually priced-to-throw-away at 35 cents or so. Ever wonder who actually wants those things? Well, they're often my favorite part of the bookstore. Too often nowadays used bookstores will only take newer titles in trade, wanting to stock mostly mainstream authors that they'll have no trouble selling. That's not what I tend to go to those stores looking for; I want old nasty trash-lit from the 50's, 60's, and 70's that's long out of print and probably isn't good enough to get reprinted anytime soon. Yes, I like picking through society's garbage, because this is a tasteless civilization for the most part and often doesn't recognize what's good. Until the used bookstores wise the fuck up, your best bet for finding these things remains library booksales, where they give them away for a song and aren't too picky about which titles they'll accept for sale. I've even found old porn novels at library sales, just because nobody bothered to see what the hell they were. So, while I've been reading a lot of classics lately (thanks mostly to these great Barnes & Noble volumes, which I'm fully addicted to snagging), I have not (and shall not) lose my love of paperback sleaze and scum.
And now, like an STD, I'll pass the vicarious thrills on to you with a little random peek at some of my pile o' crap, complete with cover scans to capture all the ragged, rat-pee-stained glory.
Weekend of Terror - James L. Purvis, Powell, 1970. I pretty much had to read this little trash novel (even though I had it for about 20 years before I finally got around to it) because of the absolutely awful cover art: a bad cartoonish picture of an uhappily-staring woman with blood coming out of her mouth and one eye (or its empty socket?) covered in blood. It’s one of the goofiest gore-images ever seen on a book cover. The writing inside is about as bad as the cover art; an electrician gets a note saying that the daughter of his recently-deceased and much-beloved boss has been kidnapped, and unless he coughs up $70,000, one pint of her blood will be delivered every day. Thus is set in motion a vengeance hunt/ rescue against some extremely sleazy bad guys. It’s crap, but I figured on that before going in, so I’m not complaining.
Rat Pack - Shane Stevens, Pocket, 1974. An “American Clockwork Orange” that follows four white-hating black teenagers through Manhattan on a crime spree of mugging, rape, and petty theft. They’re portrayed as very stupid (they can’t even read the watches they steal, they don’t understand credit cards and checks, etc.) and all the whites are portrayed as very racist. The stereotypes weaken this simple but fast-reading urban violence novel. It’s kind of surprising that this would come from Shane Stevens, who wasn’t a stupid writer.
The Bike Bastards - George Warren, Brandon, 1975. The cover of this action novel claims that Tom Hatton, the hero, tangles with a bike gang called The Devil’s Daddies. Wotta lie! Hatton is friends with the bikers, and they help him to find a girl kidnapped by terrorists. Hatton is an alcoholic reporter who lost an arm in Vietnam -- sorta like Hunter S. Thompson minus a left. In fact, the book reads like Hunter’s classic Hell’s Angels mixed with Patty Hearst. The only problem is that the bikers are offscreen too much of the time, so the title’s not supported enough. Other than that, this is a lot more intelligently-written than most obscure mid-70’s actioners, and even though it’s slow in spots and the climax isn’t as super-charged as it should be (if I remember correctly, a similar scene was only a footnote in Hunter’s book), it’s still a groovy read.
Tomboy - Hal Ellson, Bantam, originally 1950. “The famous novel of juvenile delinquency” about a 50’s street gang called the Harps. Tomboy is the toughest girl in the club, so tough that she’s not even considered a deb. She hates all the other girls and refuses to be a slut like they are. She has no boyfriend, but is close to a kid named Mick, even though he’s kind of scared and only stays in the gang because of peer pressure. She’s also attracted to a guy named Lucky, even though she won’t admit it. Her father’s a drunk and she loathes her stepmother. There’s not much plot -- the gang just robs stores, fights with other gangs (usually for racist reasons), has sex (‘50’s style, i.e. non-graphically, although it’s less cryptic than most 50’s novels), whip each other and carve initials in their arms, and other cool J.D. stuff. The writing is simplistic but all the more effective because of it, and there’s some good imagery if you look for it. Ellson gives all the facts without ever coming across as judgmental, and even though there’s no real plot to follow, the novel never gets boring. Now reprinted with two other Ellson J.D. novels, worth checking out.
Bad Guy - Nicholas Brady, Belmont Tower, 1977. Grade-B sleazy crime novel about “hillbilly hoodlum” Jake Colby, a stock car driver/Dixie Mafia strongarm who wants out of the crime game but is forced to pull one more job -- robbing a Las Vegas casino. He falls in love with a Cajun girl who’s helping with the robbery, and she aids him in a vengeance quest against some mobsters who double-crossed him. The writing’s pretty bad that kind of adds to the sleazy ambiance, and the novel’s full of fat rednecks, cheapo slutwomen, and scumbag locations, just like you’d expect. Rather slow-moving at times, but has a couple of okay violent scenes. A must for those who enjoy bad novels. Hey, any novel that opens with a graphic scene of a redneck sheriff showing a city boy’s face into a pile of shit at a stockcar race can’t be all bad.
The Owl - Robert Forward, Pinnacle, 1984. Ultra-hard-boiled, hyper violent action mystery about a detective who has a disorder called in somnolence, which means he never sleeps. Because of this advantage, he’s almost a Batman-like figure and strikes terror into the hearts of all evildoers, and he works hard at ruthlessness just to keep up this reputation. He has no car or home because he likes to be completely off the grid, since a lot of people would like to kill him. The plot revolves around The Owl’s attempts to find the people who burned a man’s daughter beyond recognition, and this case racks up a body count equal to any two Dirty Harry movies. The writing is cool as hell, but the character is so hard-boiled it almost gets self-parodic at times. Action fans should seek it out.
The Dogfighter - Jonathan Beteul, Fawcett-Gold Medal, 1975. Ultra-sleazy novel about the shady doings of a lowlife who trains fighting dogs and pits them against other dogs in bloody battles to the death. It’s rare to find writing so utterly grimy -- the characters are a bunch of unthinking brutes who can’t talk about anything except fucking their ugly girlfriends and which foods make them fart or piss; the whole book is utterly vulgar. Which, of course, means it’s GREAT! The story’s nothing amazing (probably intended as another take on Charles Willeford’s infinitely-better The Cockfighter) but it’s so cold, violent, and gut-level that it doesn’t let you lose interest, and you can’t find such a scumbag atmosphere just anywhere. Trash novel fans should try to find this one.
The Blood Circus - Thomas K. Fitzpatrick, Fawcett-Gold Medal, 1968. A cop poses as a biker to infiltrate an outlaw gang called The Beasts, only to discover that Communists are supplying them with weapons to stage a war with the cops. Sleazy, entertaining exploitation trash-novel that’s similar to a lot of the kind of paranoid stories that appeared in scummy “men’s adventure” magazines in the 60’s. Nobody ever lost money selling fear to the status quo.
Dead City - Shane Stevens, Pocket 1973. Often-brutal crime novel about a couple of small-time hoods who serve as muscle for the mob and have hopes of working their way up to being big shots. Plenty of strong violence and a message that crime may pay, but never for you.