Vintage Pulp Apr 1 2024
CRIMSON TIDE
If you jump without looking you might get swept away.


The book you see above, a 1958 Popular Library edition of The Red Room by Belgian author Françoise Mallet-Joris, was picked up for us by a friend who thought he was buying a pulp novel. He was attracted by the cover, and it's indeed fine work, from the skilled brush (and possibly ink quill and charcoal pencil) of Mitchell Hooks. As for the novel, it was originally published in 1955 as La chambre rouge and was a sequel to 1951's Le rempart des Béguines.

When someone buys us a book we always read it out of appreciation and respect, even romance novels, and in reading The Red Room we were reminded once again of the skill gap between literary and crime fiction. There are obviously excellent, transcendent crime writers (and literary fiction that misses the mark), but Mallet-Joris—even translated—spins evocative phrases as deftly as a weaver with a loom. Like this one:

The presence of winter—vulgar winter, befurred and jangling her crystal adornments—was scarcely felt in the small white and gold drawing room.

Isn't that nice? It's not Hammett describing a gangster popping off shots in a crowded bar, but it's still fun to read. The tale is a coming of age breast-beater set in Gers, France in which the main character, eighteen-year-old Hélène Noris decides to steal the dashing young film director her hated stepmother Tamara has earmarked for extra-marital games. That actually sounds kind of pulp, doesn't it? Well, just wait.

At some point it becomes clear that Hélène had been Tamara's young lover (probably this is the central plot of the previous book). Tamara and Hélène had been carrying on, but in order to secure for herself a stable existence Tamara decided to marry Hélène's father. Thus, The Red Room charts Hélène as she impulsively steals her stepmother's crush, only to find herself getting in too deep with someone who's more experienced and decisive than any man she's known.

Needless to say, that plot sounds like some of the sleaze novels we highlight here, which would make you wonder, in terms of public perception, at which point the lowbrow becomes highbrow. And the easy answer to that is: when you can write like Mallet-Joris and critics adore you. Overall, The Red Room is probably a little too genteel and interiorized for most pulp readers, but we liked it. Consider that less a recommendation than an acknowledgment of talent.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 25
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
May 24
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
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