Sunday, May 03, 2009

Black Lizard lounging


A few years back, I used to occasionally browse at a now-defunct Coles bookstore at a slowly dying Jersey Shore mall (since passed on). In the weeks before the store closed for good, odd things began showing up - dusty boxes of paperbacks that had been unavailable for years, British edition PBs in plastic-sealed three-packs, entire lots of books from individual publishers. All these, I guessed, had been recently liberated after being left to yellow in a warehouse somewhere (on one visit I found Gerald Petievich's first two novels, the long out-of-print MONEY MEN and ONE-SHOT DEAL, unread, for 69 cents each). All were mint condition, uncirculated books that for some reason had been stored instead of pulped.

One day, not long before the end, they set out a table with, I believe, almost the entire run of original Black Lizard mass market paperbacks published between 1984 and 1990. Founded by publisher Donald Ellis and edited by novelist Barry Gifford (right), Black Lizard had quite a run in the late 1980s, publishing more than 90 titles before selling its name and catalogue to Random House in 1990 (the label lives on as an imprint of Random's Vintage line).

The titles on display were like-new books, with glossy covers (most featuring original illustrations by Jim Kirwan) and bright white pages. They were a mixture of classic noir (Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, David Goodis), paperback originals from the 1960s and '70s (Charles Willeford, Dan J. Marlowe, Peter Rabe) and the works of some prolific but all-but-forgotten pulp masters (W.L. Heath, Harry Whittington, Steve Fisher), as well as a handful of new titles by contemporary authors (Jim Nisbet, Murray Sinclair, Sin Soracco). Though they'd originally been priced at anywhere from $3.99 to $7.99, the books had been marked down to 50 cents each. I bought them all.

I read some of the classics right away, books I'd heard of but never been able to locate - Lionel White's THE KILLING (aka CLEAN BREAK), Heath's VIOLENT SATURDAY, Marlowe's THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH. Some I gradually got to later. I good amount of them I never got to at all - until now.

So beginning next Sunday - and continuing occasionally - I'll take a fresh look at some of those pulp gems, either reading them for the first time or revisiting them anew. First up: Robert Edmond Alter's SWAMP SISTER.

(BTW: the photo at top is a generic one, it doesn't reflect the actual books I bought that day, though I did get most of those pictured. Never did find a copy of LOW BITE though).


4 comments:

tintin said...

Grow a beard, smoke a pipe, learn to tie a bow tie and you could be book dealer. But you need to be in Paris where they'll pay 50 euros for those .50 cent books.

pattinase (abbott) said...

What a dream day that would be.

Hairy Soap said...

What a score for 50 cents each! Thanks for your reviews. The original Black Lizard catalog is my favorite crime fiction imprint. Love Kirwan's art (the cover to Willeford's "Pick-Up" is my personal favorite).

I live in the East Bay Area, not too far from where the original Black Lizard operated. Besides the used, often tattered copies, you can still occasionally find stacks of new, unread BL titles on shelves and remainder tables in this area. 'Course, they're more like $2-4 instead of $.50, but they're well worth it.

Keep up the good work!

wstroby said...

Thanks. I'll be getting to some of the other titles soon. Probably Lionel White's THE KILLING this Sunday.