Edited by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan – Pulp fiction (as a genre, not the movie) is intimately linked with the development of crime fiction, especially American crime fiction, over the past century. Dashiell Hammett, Horace McCoy, Raymond Chandler, Paul Cain and others pecked out stories for Black Mask and other pulp magazines for the going rate of one penny per word. As a result, pulp has become associated with crime fiction, and is often regarded as simply an antiquated sort of proto-hardboiled fiction.
This new volume, edited by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, puts the lie to common assumptions. Vintage pulp had crime fiction, certainly, but also had science fiction, horror and other elements. Pulp Ink 2 makes it clear that pulp is neither antiquated nor limited to retro-style detective fiction. The stories in Pulp Ink 2 may have never seen the ragged pages of a pulpwood magazine, but they certainly exemplify the ragged intensity of those early stories. The often gothic undertones that are woven through many of the stories deepen suspense and darken the already depraved characters that populate Pulp Ink 2.
This collection covers a surprising – and gratifying – range of topics. In addition to crime fiction, we have apocalyptic hallucinations, telepathically controlled rats, Nazi vampires, animated but disembodied limbs and nymphomaniac spiders. Sam Spade and Flash Casey this is not. Nevertheless, sensational elements are not substitutes for well-written, engaging stories. Thankfully the stories here are as gripping as they are twisted, and you’ll keep turning the pages with admiration and lurid fascination in equal parts.
As in any anthology, some stories are better than others. Picking your favorites is likely to be half the fun. I was particularly impressed by Mike Miner’s Kidnapped, a noir-ish tragedy seen through a child’s eyes, and Katherine Tomlinson’s sci-fi/fantasy police procedural Thicker Than Water. Former Crime Fiction Lover correspondent R Thomas Brown reviewed the first Pulp Ink volume for us a year ago. This time, Brown is featured in Pulp Ink 2 with a bare-knuckled mob story.
Pulp Ink 2 is a short story anthology, and many, though not all, of the stories featured in it have the requisite surprise ending. The stories are fine examples of the literary form, though many of them may leave you wanting more. Whether this is a plus or a minus, I leave to you. There are a number of concepts and characters in this anthology that I would love to see expanded into novel form.
But the stories here are appetisers. They do what they are intended to do: whet a reader’s appetite. Like the pulp stories and serials of old, those in Pulp Ink 2 offer blunt and unvarnished tales. Bird and Rhatigan bring us excellent crime fiction, and more.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars