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 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.


Todd Mason said...

You'll have my request for those scans later today, as I use the last ergs to type this and perhaps another comment or two around the B-sphere...I forget, is there a Ruric estate hassle that's keeping one of the revivalist publishers from offering Cain omnibus?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Another name I have yet to try!

Cullen Gallagher said...

Todd: a Cain Omnibus would be amazing. "Seven Slayers" and "Fast One" are two of my favorites, but my editions aren't nearly as nice looking as the one that Evan posted. And my editions are littered with spelling and formatting errors. Very sloppy reprints.

A said...

Sounds fabulous! I'll have to give it a try.

Evan Lewis said...

I've heard that a complete collection called Fourteen Slayers was planned several years ago, but have no idea what's holding it up.

Sad to hear those reprints are sloppy. I haven't seen them.

George said...

I read Paul Cain years ago, but I didn't know there were stories that haven't been reprinted. Stay on the case, Evan!

Brian Drake said...

I, too, would like to know whatever happened to Fourteen Slayers. Crippen & Landru were the ones planning it.

If you have reprints from they are indeed garbage. My Omnibus edition from Resurrectionary Press features a cover photo of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald; while an odd choice, that whole event was a "fast one" is there ever was.

I've done extensive reading of Cain and "Seven Slayers" and I think Mister Black showed up in more stories than just "Black" and "Trouble-Chaser". Go and read "One, Two, Three" one more time; also "Parlor Trick". I figured this out because in "Trouble-Chaser" Mister Black is also referred to as "Red"--which is the same nickname given to Bella's boyfriend in "Parlor Trick". The character in "One, Two, Three" mentions no name, but it's not hard to construct a story arc that includes that one.

First, in "Black", he's solid with the gang; in "Parlor Trick" he has to leave the gang; "One, Two, Three" finds Black down on his luck and chasing a guy named Healy so he can take his money; by the time we meet him in "Trouble-Chaser" he's been in L.A. for some time and is more or less solvent but refers to his past nefarious activities as he tries to find out whodunnit. Anyway, it's a theory.

I also wish there had been more Druse stories; Johnny Doolin and St. Nick Green would have been great characters, too. I think Cain must have read Leslie Charteris, because each one of those characters is just like "The Saint"--but minus the humor Charteris included with his books.

Richard Robinson said...

Excellent choice, excellent review. I have Fast One but not any of the short stories. Sure would like to have a nice clean well edited and printed omnibus edition!

Evan Lewis said...

Interesting theory, Brian. Another Cain mystery we'll likely never solve.

Jerry House said...

14 Slayers (edited by Max Allan Collins & Lynn Meyers) was originally scheduled to be released in 2002 by Crippen & Landru. I believe it's still listed as to be published (as are a number of previsously announced projects).