Friday, July 23, 2010
Forgotten Books: Seven Slayers by Paul Cain
Only one novel and 14 short stories appeared under the pen name Paul Cain, but that novel was Fast One, and 7 of those stories were collected in paperback Seven Slayers, cementing Cain's reputation as one of the hardest of hardboiled writers.
I re-read and reviewed Fast One not long ago (click HERE), and have since located five of the stories not selected for Seven Slayers, so my next step was obvious. Have another go at Seven Slayers itself.
And once again, it was a pleasure. None of these stories seem quite as hard as Fast One, but all are tight, fast, edgy and take you in unexpected directions. Cain’s prose has wit, style and a certain savage grace that leaves you wanting more.
Two of these tales are in first person, which I found especially interesting. A first-person story creates at least the illusion of a more direct insight into the mind of the author. Even when the writer is taking on a personally wholly unlike his own, I believe (or maybe choose to believe) that some aspect of real personality seeps through. Third person, especially the ultra-tough third person narration employed in Fast One, creates a mask that is far more difficult to penetrate.
One of the most intriguing characters in the book appears in “Pigeon Blood,” a title derived from a set of rubies supposedly worth 175 grand in 1933. Our protagonist here is Druse, an ex-lawyer now free to employ his lawyerly skills without restraint. He keeps a luxury apartment in Upper Manhattan and professes to have one of the world’s finest collections of books on Satanism, demonology and witchcraft. It’s a shame Cain didn’t give us more stories about this guy, because he sure had potential.
Actually, Cain had only one series character, an underworld mercenary named Black, and he made only two appearances. The first, called simply “Black,” is in this collection. For the other, “Trouble-Chaser,” you’ll have to dig up the 1995 book Hard Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories.
Seven Slayers is now readily available, both under the original title and in an omnibus edition including Fast One. But five of Cain’s stories have never been reprinted. As I’ve mentioned before (most recently right HERE), I have three of those in the original magazines and am happy to share them with readers of the Almanack. If you’d like scans of the stories “Dutch Treat,” “Chinaman’s Chance” and “555,” email me at email@example.com and I’ll shoot them back to you.
I’m still hunting scans of the other two: “Hunch” from Black Mask 3/34 and “Death Song” from Black Mask 1/36. If anyone has them, please send them my way!
See the vast array of other Forgotten Books awaiting your perusal at pattinase.