Thursday, May 26, 2011

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 it was so good I couldn't resist having another go at Seven Slayers.

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 delewis1@hotmail.com and I’ll shoot them back to you.

As for the other two: “Hunch” from Black Mask 3/34 and “Death Song” from Black Mask 1/36 . . . tune in tomorrow for exciting news!


If you missed our presentation of Cain's 1949 sf/fantasy story "The Tasting Machine," you can still catch it right HERE.

Tomorrow! More Paul Cain featured in Friday's Forgotten Stories.

4 comments:

George said...

THE FAST ONE and SEVEN SLAYERS are two underrated classics. Paul Cain should be better known.

Richard R. said...

this is a repost, yes?

Evan Lewis said...

Busted. This is indeed a rerun, but it's for a good cause: to set up tomorrow's really cool Paul Cain news.

Brian Drake said...

I like Seven Slayers more than Fast One because Cain, I think, is better in bite-sized pieces.

As for the "Pigeon Blood" story, Blackstone Audio did a set of radio plays from Black Mask stories, three of which were Paul Cain pieces, two of which were Pigeon Blood and Black. The other was Trouble Chaser.

Cain seemed to favor the independent hero who was neither cop or private eye, such as Druse, as you mentioned, and St. Nick Green, who appeared in another Seven Slayers story. It would have been nice to see more of both. I also like "Murder in Blue" and the Johnny Doolin character. He can, obviously, mess with gangsters, and as an out-of-work stunt man I'm sure there would have been plenty of scenarios for him had Cain put his mind to it.

But, alas... I am looking forward to Friday! And I still need to read The Tasting Machine.