Monday, 12 March 2012

Can Ladies Kill? - Peter Cheyney

A real treat, this - vintage hard-boiled detective fiction from a notorious Whitechapel-born English purveyor of pulp.  This is, according to the official Cheyney site, the fourth of the Lemmy Caution books.  Cheyney only started writing books in 1936 (this is from 1938 ) when he was over 40.  He knocked out fifty full-length stories before he dropped dead in his mid-50s, alongside hundreds of short stories, short plays and a mountain of tabloid journalism.

The striking thing about his Caution novels is that Cheyney instantly adopts the tricky first person present.  As he predates Raymond Chandler, I wonder if his key influence was Damon Runyon?  Cheyney keeps his punctuation extremely simple and seems to have no problem with US gumshoe slang.  The morals of his characters are very loose indeed - startlingly so for the period.  No wonder they were such enormous best sellers - even during the war, when paper was rationed and money was tight, Cheyney was selling two million a year.

I don't know who publishes Cheyney today, if anyone, and I don't care.  A bibliomaniac has to have it in a genuine vintage edition, like my 1949 Penguin greenback (above).

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