Vintage Pulp Aug 11 2023
A CASE OF OVERWATERING
The thrills get lost in the deep end of Rinehart's final novel.


Mary Roberts Rinehart is another of those legendary mystery writers from the pulp era, having launched her career all the way back in 1908. The phrase, “The butler did it,” derives from her work. Of her many novels, we chose to read her 1952 effort The Swimming Pool and our reason was simple—we loved the cover. It was painted by Victor Kalin in a different style than we'd ever seen from him. So with excellent art fronting the work of a major author, we sat down, rubbed our hands together, and thought: “Okay, here we go.” And long story short, The Swimming Pool was definitely too slow to enjoy. And we have a suspicion Rinehart knew it, as her use of foreshadowing to sustain interest is incessant:

Perhaps that excuses her for what happened years later.

I daresay any train east from that Nevada city carries its own load of drama, but I had no idea it was carrying ours.

She was terrified, although it was only after long months of what I can only call travail that we learned the reason for it.

But those inquiries of hers eventually led to her tragic undoing.

And so forth. It occurs particularly at the end of chapters, but it pops up numerous times in other places. It was combined, as well, with the technique of having characters withhold information. We don't mean clandestinely. We mean openly, as in: “I'm not going to tell you that right now. Later perhaps, but not now.” We could have weathered this if it had been only a single character who knew more than he/she said, but there are two important ones here who simply won't speak up. It's a style. We get it. But in real life we'd be like: “Oh you better believe you're going to tell me what you know or this day is going to turn all kinds of bad for you.”

The story deals with two sisters living in a luxurious but neglected estate. The younger sister is a novelist of middling success, while the older one is basically a socialite. For months this older sister has been living in terror, but refuses to tell anyone what the danger is or accept help for her problem. Soon mysterious events occur, such as strange people creeping around the estate, someone taking potshots with a pistol, and a woman drowning in the titular swimming pool. Protection seems to miraculously arrive in the form of a studly renter for the estate's guest cottage, but he has his own agenda, which he reveals at the pace of Chinese water torture.

In fact, Rinehart's entire narrative feels padded, or deliberately drawn out in service of a word count. But here's the thing—she can certainly write. Who are we to even say that? Of course she can write. She published hundreds of stories, scores of novels, and saw her work adapted to cinema or television something like fifty times. But what can we do? We like what we like. The pacing of The Swimming Pool eventually wore us down. We learned only after reading it that it was her last novel, published when she was seventy-six. So we're thinking her spark might be brighter earlier. That means we'll try her again sometime. A serious reader of crime novels could do no less.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 7 2015
UNHAPPILY CARRIED
For better or worse, in sickness and health, women in pulp don’t have a heck of a lot of choice about it.
 
Pulp is a place where the men are decisive and the women are as light as feathers. We’ve gotten together a collection of paperback covers featuring women being spirited away to places unknown, usually unconscious, by men and things that are less than men. You have art from Harry Schaare, Saul Levine, Harry Barton, Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan, and others.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 10 2010
SMOKE EM IF YOU GOT EM
Guns don't kill people, femmes fatales kill people.


Above, assorted pulp covers of gun-brandishing women, including a nice image in panel six from Robert Maguire. And yes, we know that the Anglicized "femmes fatale" is accepted in the U.S. and elsewhere, but living in a place where there are quite a few French people, we could never get away with that. Noun and adjective must agree, so it's "femmes fatales."

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 26
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
February 25
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
February 24
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
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