Pulp Fiction Mystery Books and Magazines

Giving people the opportunity to escape to a far more exciting place and situation was the role of the cheaply produced magazines that we often refer to today as the pulps. Pulp fiction was the lifeblood of fiction writing that really took off from around the 1920s and continued into the 1930s. The popularity began to subside at the end of the 1930s but pulp fiction style publications continued to be produced in numbers for another couple of decades right through until around the late 1960s.

The earliest pulp magazine to be produced in the soft-covered, cheap paper format was the October 1896 issue of Argosy which was released by Frank Munsey. This first issue looked little like the more vividly illustrated publications that would follow. It had no illustrations at all. In fact the front cover was decidedly dull. But the idea was far from it and the popularity of the easily consumed short stories blossomed quickly until more publications were created to meet the increasing demand from a public that couldn’t get enough of the adventures provided.

Pulp mysteries began appearing in publications such as Black Mask, Dime Detective, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Argosy. The list could go on and on.

The early pulp fiction magazines and books were created as a cheap source of entertainment for the public who were looking for an inexpensive form of entertainment. The intention was that the customer would pick up the latest copy of his favorite mystery magazine, read it on the train or bus, shove it in his pocket and throw it away when he was finished.

mickey-spillane-vengeanceThe fact that so many pulp fiction paperbacks were thrown away has resulted in a high level of rarity for some more obscure and short-run editions. Also, the fact that the cover art is both lurid and eye-catching has meant that the books have more appeal than simply the words that were printed inside. The visual appeal of the covers makes collecting these softcover books even more popular and in some cases significantly raises the value of the book.

Originally costing 5c or a dime, the early editions of short stories were printed on low-quality pulpwood paper which is where the name “Pulp Fiction” has come from. Collectors tend to refer these types of books as “vintage paperbacks”.

Publishers from the era who specialized in the production of pulp fiction included notable names such as Ace, Avon, Bantam, Banner, Berkley, Culture Publications, Dell, Eton, Graphic, Lion Books, Monarch, Popular Library, Red Circle, Gold Medal, Handi Books, Pocketbook, Vintage Library, Corinth Regency, Street & Smith and Pyramid.

Some of the sub-genres that were extremely popular at the time falling under the broader mystery banner included Action Adventure, Gangster, Sleaze and Detective. At Pulp Fiction Mysteries we have tried to break down the various sub-genres into as specific categories as possible to make it as easy to find the author or sub-genre that you’re after. A search box is also provided in case there is a more obscure author or publication that is not covered by the links provided.
Authors providing stories for the pulps were usually paid by the word and they tended to churn them out as fast as they could. It seems that the more over the top the language and the more rugged the hero, the better.

In many cases the types of stories that came out of the pulps were influenced by the attitudes that were prevailing at the time. The stories were aimed mainly at men and tended to intentionally try to spark some kind of reaction to snag the reader for future issues. Political incorrectness was unheard of and titles like “Twelve Chinks and a Woman” raised no eyebrows.

Special Paperback Collecting Terms

As with all types of collecting, paperback collectors have their own language and you will see certain phrases over and over when certain book styles are advertised for sale. Here are a few to help you out:
Map Backs – these are a paperback series released by Dell that featured a map on the back cover that illustrates where the mystery contained within takes place.

Ace Doubles – Ace Publishing occasionally released volumes containing two books in one. With these books there is no back cover instead the two front covers are facing each other with a book starting from either cover.
Bantam LA’s – These are extremely rare books with only 28 titles printed. They were books that were designed to be sold in vending machines at bus and train stations.

Heroes & Characters

Some of the popular Heroes / Characters to come out of the pulp fiction novels included The Shadow, The Phantom Detective, Doc Savage, Mike Shayne, Perry Mason, Biggles, Secret Agent X, Sexton Blake, The Continental Op, The Avenger, Nick Carter, Fu Manchu and Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective.

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