"The Town of Books" proclaimed the road sign. Now this seemed like my sort of place. A few weeks ago my wife and I were back in the UK mixing visits to friends and family, with a research trip for a couple of potential book projects. But one day above all was earmarked as special - it was my birthday. And, birthday cash in hand, I decided to spend the day in Hay-on-Wye, a small town just over the Welsh border, about an hour's drive from my parents house. That sign outside of town is no idle boast. It is literally a town of books. The small country town has at least thirty second-hand and antiquarian bookshops within its borders, most in and around the town center. Even the old cinema and the local castle have been converted into bookstores.
I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just intending to browse to see what caught me eye. (A full set of first edition Ian Fleming Bond novels certainly caught my eye, but was a little bit outside my budget for the day - OK, a long way outside.)
However at the back of my mind was that I might come away with some British style pulps, or collection of pulp stories. It was not to be.
And it wasn't just Hay-on-Wye that proved to be a disappointment in that area. It doesn't matter what town, or country, I'm in, I can't resist bookstores. We visited bookstores and markets in Bristol, Stratford, Liverpool, and London; yet nowhere did I find anything that I would classify as pulp-literature, either classic or modern. I guess the closest I got would be a copy of the 2009 Wordsworth edition of The Casebook of Sexton Blake collecting seven Sexton Blake stories originally published between 1907 and 1923.
This got me thinking. Is there such a thing as British pulp?
A little research reveals that even though what we generally consider as pulp magazines is primarily a US-based phenomenon, there were in fact several British pulp-style magazines published during the first forty years of the twentieth century. The outbreak of World War Two signaled the demise of titles such as Pall Mall Magazine, Empire Frontier, The Novel Magazine, The Sovereign Magazine, Hutchinson's Adventure-Story, Wings, Cowboy Stories, and Hutchinson's Mystery-Story.
However the modern new pulp movement seems, at least at first glance, to be somewhat dormant in the UK. I did find traces of a new pulp style magazine called ThrillerUK which looks to have been published around 2000-2005, but it too appears to be no more.
This is a subject that calls for a bit more investigation over the coming months. In the mean time here’s the second part of the story form the planned “Protetctors” anthology featuring my own pulp style hero – The Raven. Click here for Part One.
NAMELESS HERE FOR EVERMORE
By Alan J. Porter & Rick Klaw
The Raven loomed over the shattered Buick lying on its side, a mix of steam, water, oil and blood seeping from it like some great wounded beast of burden. Returning his twin Colt .45 revolvers to their concealed shoulder holsters, he looked into the crushed interior. The remains of Dutch Mandel was spread all over the driver’s door and front seat, while in the back, a goon’s head lay at such an unnatural angle as to confirm that he had joined Dutch in whatever bit of the after-life two-bit hoods populated. So with Dutch, the twisted man, and the slaughtered calf at the deli all out of the way, that left one. Where was he?
In response, a baseball-bat powered blow smacked him in the back of his head.
The Raven staggered from the impact, placing his hands on the shattered car. Pivoting on his braced arms, he rose and shot his leg straight back in the direction of where he calculated the goon with the bat stood. Idiots never moved. Like bargain basement Babe Ruths, they wasted valuable seconds admiring their handy work. He felt his foot connect with stomach, and heard the rapid involuntary expulsion of air that followed. The Raven spun round and delivered a second kick--a round house this time--into the goon’s solar plexus, driving him back and to the ground.
His cape flowing behind him, The Raven strode over to the supine crook, placing a booted foot on the man’s heaving chest to prevent him rising. Withdrawing one of the .45s, he slowly and deliberately aimed it at the man’s forehead.
“Was it worth it?” the deep baritone voice, partly muffled by the scarf, sounded matter of fact, as if this man's life was of little or no consequence.
Dramatically tightening his finger on the trigger and pulling it back to the pressure point, The Raven paused just before administering the final squeeze. The man, sweating profusely, muttered something, and slowly pointed off to his right.
The man pointed again, and spat out a couple of words from between his quivering lips, “The Actor.”
It was enough to make the masked man release the pressure on the revolver’s trigger and shift his gaze in the direction of the fallen goon’s pointing finger. A newsstand board displayed the day’s headlines:
MAN OF THOUSAND FACES DISAPPEARS.
BLOODY KNIFE FOUND IN APARTMENT
POLICE SUSPECT FOUL PLAY.
“Are you sure, Captain Malone?”
“If you’ll pardon the indelicacy, Miss, 'tis a bucketful of blood for someone to be losing and still walk, or crawl, out of here. An' then there’s the knife.”
“But no body.”
“To be honest, I wouldne hold out any hope. Whoever did this had their reasons for hidin’ the body; an’ I dread to think what they might be.”
Lala Ward stared at the rotund police captain in dumbfounded silence for a several moments.
“I’m sorry, Miss. That was a wee indelicate of me.” Malone added his own dramatic pause to the tense situation.
Ward's romance with Edward Wilkes had been the stuff of gossip columns for months—not that Malone read such things, but the missus enjoyed them, and liked to share the latest tittle-tattle over supper. Dressed expensively in a flowing well fitting dress that touched her curves in all the right places, the young woman, most likely around 25, moved with a somewhat feline grace. Malone noticed that she had pulled her long blonde tresses back into extravagant pony tail that she had flicked forward over her left shoulder, the hair cascading down towards her breasts. With a start the captain realized where his gaze was lingering, he quickly shifted his line of sight downwards and noticed her habit of standing with one foot perched on top of the other, probably a dancer. He guessed she met the victim working together on some show.
“I'm sorry but I do have to ask you a few questions.”
“Was there a particular reason for you to be visiting Mr. Wilkes this evening?”
“Are you suggesting I killed Edward?”
“Ah no. You arrived a good 15 minutes after we were already on the scene; I'm doubting that any sane killer would return while the police were here. Not that killers are sane, well I think you know what I mean.”
“Yes I do Captain, and to answer your question we were going out for dinner with a friend. Provided he actually turned up this time.”
Lala gasped, her hand flying up to her mouth, “Oh my God. Raymond. He’ll be waiting. He doesn’t know.”
“I could send one of the boys with a car to let this friend of yours know if you'd like.”
“No need for that, Captain.” A tall well-groomed man in his early thirties, wearing the most expensive suit Malone had ever seen, stood in the doorway. The police captain guessed that the silk tie the man wore probably cost more than he earned in a year. The man stood ram-rod straight, square jawed, with sparkling blue eyes. The complexion showed traces of an even, if slightly fading, tan, and his hair glistened with just a hint of hair cream. Not too much, just enough to keep it controlled and neat. Malone didn’t need any help in identifying the newcomer. His face familiar from newspaper photographs and magazine covers. New York City’s most eligible bachelor, Raymond Vandemeer.
“I’m afraid this tragedy is already fodder for the writers of the evening edition headlines,” continued Vandemeer, stepping past the officer guarding the apartment doorway as if he was only a minor inconvenience, “Is there anything I can do to assist in your investigations?”
Malone found this newcomer's fobbish tones to be bordering on condescending. He wasn't one to make snap decisions, far from it in fact, but there was something about this guy that didn't ring true.
Malone decided he didn't like Raymond Vandemeer, and he wanted him out if here. “If you could take Miss Ward home, it would be a big help, sir,”
“Certainly.” Vandemeer put down the bible he had picked up off the nearby nightstand, and was now absent-mindlessly flipping through and turned to Lala. He slid an arm around her shoulders as both a gesture of comfort and as a method of gentle persuasion to help her in the direction of the door.
Malone noticed Lala Ward stiffen slightly at the man’s innocent gesture. There was something more going on here than just two social acquaintances.