Sunday 10 August 2014

Hard Case Crime — Paperbacks versus Pulps

A chap called Charles Ardai must have been as fed up as I was with the boring state of current paperbacks, with their insipid, graphically confused and feeble cover art, because ten years ago he founded an imprint called Hard Case Crime

As befit their retro approach, Hard Case titles were originally available in the classic paperback format, i.e. pocket sized rather than 'trade paperback' — but now are mostly in the larger size, and sometimes even appear as handsome hardcover editions.

And they invariably have striking cover art, including beautiful paintings by the glorious Robert McGinnis — including Quarry's Choice, which is due out from Hard Case early next year. I see the geniuses at Wikipedia describe these covers as being in the 'pulp' style. Of course, they are actually nothing like pulp magazine covers. Rather, they evoke the golden age of paperback art from the 1950s and 1960s. Always happy to correct the Wikipedia boys on a point of fact. 

It really irks me when people throw around a term like 'pulp' in a faux-knowledgeable way. A casual trawl of the internet shows chumps putting up galleries of what they say are pulp covers when in fact they are a hopeless melange of paperbacks, 'sweats' (later, post-pulp magazines) and a few genuine pulps. 

I suppose, since Tarrantino's Pulp Fiction (a movie I adore, incidentally) the term has become diluted and confused beyond recall. Anyway, you can see real pulp art here

And, in fairness to the high-functioning heroes of Wikipedia, I suppose you could make a case for a handful of Hard Case covers being done in a pulp manner — the best candidates to my mind would be Seduction of the Innocent, Nightwalker and  the gorgeous Branded Woman, the latter painted by Glen Orbik in a striking poster style using dramatic lighting and a limited and deliciously non-naturalistic colour palette which calls to mind George Rozen's work on the Shadow Magazine, a genuine pulp if ever there was one. I'll include images of both here, because I love 'em.

Anyway, inside their tasty vintage paperback style covers, Hard Case features a blend of original fiction and reprints by giants of the genre. I loved their books from the first time I glimpsed them, at a convention in Los Angeles years ago. I immediately bought a couple — quite by chance one example of each kind of Hard Case. The original was Money Shot by Christa Faust, the reprint Fright by Cornell Woolrich.

I enjoyed both these books — I finished the Woolrich on the plane back to London — but I had only just begun to dip my toe into the ocean of great reading which is Hard Case. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting about some genuine masterpieces from the imprint which have been keeping me up all night, turning pages. 

(Image credits: all the Hard Case covers are from Hard Case's own fine site. The beautiful Shadow Magazine cover is from a great website here. At times like this I realise what a wonderful resource the internet is.)


  1. What a terrific piece, Andrew! Can't wait to read more of your thoughts on the books in the line.

    One necessary correction, however: ever since losing our original publishing partner, Dorchester Publishing, back in 2010 (a casualty of the global economic crisis of the years immediately preceding), we have published most of our books in the larger trade paperback format favored by most publishers these days, including our new partner, the UK-based Titan Books. We have still done _some_ pocket-sized paperbacks, and we've done a few hardcovers as well, but the majority of our recent titles have been trade pbs.

    I prefer the classic size myself. But I also prefer existence to non-existence, and if adding an inch in either direction might make the difference between the one and the other, an extra inch it is.

    Charles Ardai
    Editor, Hard Case Crime

    1. Hi Charles, How splendid to hear from the man behind the books! Sorry for the late reply (I'm terrible at keeping track of my blogs). I've made the correction and I'm looking forward to writing more about the Hard Case line up -- which is occupying most of my reading these days. Incidentally, I've just got a three book deal with Titan for a series of crime novels of my own -- The Vinyl Detective. My editor is Miranda Jewess who also looks after the UK end of Hard Case, a coincidence which delighted me no end. Best, Andrew

  2. Hi, Andrew - this time it is I who need to apologize for a protracted silence. I came across your blog about THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH (agreed: it's a stunner) and thought to check back here to see if there were any new comments. Congrats on your Titan deal! Can't wait to read the books. And you couldn't be in better hands -- Miranda is a joy to work with, one of the very best in the business.

  3. Thank you, Charles. I can't believe my luck. Not only to have found an editor as smart and sympatico as Miranda, but to be associated with the same company that publishes Hard Case Crime. It's a dream come true. I hope our paths cross one day, perhaps at a crime fiction convention.