The Lives of Evan Hunter

I love this old Evan Hunter cover posted by Nancy A. Collins to her Facebook page. The book appears to be a pretty obscure one; I found it on Amazon here, but there’s no description. Pulp of the Day has the cover as the source for a caption contest but nobody seems to have read it.

It looks like a hell of a pulpy potboiler. I was under the vague impression that Evan Hunter’s work under his own name tended toward the, er, literary, but this sorta undermines that idea (which is based on nothing, anyway). Then again, even Hemingway had some awesome covers back in the day, so who knows?

In case you don’t know, Evan Hunter is the man who wrote the novel The Blackboard Jungle, made into a 1955 film starring Glen Ford and featuring a young Sidney Poitier. Hunter is now probably better known by his pseudonym, Ed McBain, under which he was the author of about a bazillion novels in the 87th Precinct police procedural series, beginning with 1957’s lovably simplistic and powerfully satisfying Cop Hater.

The 87th Precinct books are what they are, and I’ve enjoyed several of them. If you’re a fan of straightforward police procedurals, well…they’re a model for many later works (and plenty of crappy TV shows). To my reading, Cop Hater feels dated in a way that many of the sleazier, more violent and duplicitous crook-not-cop books from the same era and a little later just don’t. Enjoyable as it is, Cop Hater‘s uncomplicated morality hasn’t aged well. I’m more given to eye-rolls about that moral simplicity than I am about its clunky prose, which I find charming.

If I found Cop Hater‘s prose clunky, however, it isn’t because McBain couldn’t tear up the keys with the best of the ’50s noir badasses. He sure as hell could. His style is crystalline in a much more interesting book, at least to me: The only stand-alone work of McBain’s I’ve read, The Gutter and the Grave. It was reissued in paperback by Hard Case Crime a few years back. Gutter is a classic ’50s down-and-outer private eye story in the general style of the Fawcett Gold Medal books I love so much.

Since the current page on Amazon claims an April, 2011 publication date for it, The Gutter and the Grave appears to have been re-re-reissued by Hard Case‘s new incarnation, distributed by Titan Books in the UK but still helmed by cofounder Charles Ardai. I believe I read the HCC paperback back in about 2006 or 2007, so 2011 must be the Titan Books edition.

However, it pains me to say, nowadays paperbacks give me hives. I avoid bookstores the way a cleaned-up dope fiend avoids NA meetings. As a lifelong hoarder, I finally made the jump to e-books and GOD DAMN my life has never felt easier. The $250 I made unloading books at the garage sale was no compensation for feeling like I was having my liver ripped out every time some squid from down the street pawed an old John LeCarre paperback and forked over 50 cents for it, but all that liver-wrenching agony was salved by the ensuing exultation as I discovered I could, for the first time in years, actually walk around my goddamn apartment. It was as if I’d spent 30 years being harried by drifting piles of leprechauns who turned my every step into a stumble whether I was trying to hit the john at 3 a.m., romance one of those nice ladies passing out Watchtowers, or pack for a quick Manteca vacation. Now, those ankle-biting fuckers have to make their asses scarce when I hit the OFF button. It’s glorious.

Sad to say, I couldn’t find a Kindle edition or other e-book of The Gutter and the Grave; as far as I can tell, there isn’t one. For what it’s worth, if you’re slightly less obsessive than me, but obsessive enough to give a damn in the first place, Gutter is well worth tracking down in the recent Titan/Hard Case paperback. It’s a great read.

In the meantime, the Thomas & Mercer e-book of Cop Hater is easy to grab for little more than a mouse-fondle and a small bit of damage to your Visa. As much as I might badmouth McBain’s early prose, he was OG. Cop Hater is well worth a read if you like old pulpy cop novels.

McBain’s 87th Precinct novels also hold an absolutely incomparable place in cop-novel history, so armchair scholars and cranky old men like me are advised to ignore them at their own peril. I may have joined the space age by switching to e-books, but inside I’m the same old sweater-wearing son of a bitch with loafers and a scowl. You’ll find the 87th Precinct books stacked up on the virtual table next to my recliner, right next to the Dewar’s, the improbably complicated TV remote and the .38 Police Positive just in case those hoodlums from the local middle school try playing stick ball on my lawn again anytime soon.

If you’re walking by the fridge, can you grab me some ice?

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