"Test Tube Baby" by Sam Fuller (1936)

Test Tube Baby
is the second novel from Samuel Fuller (here credited as “Sam Fuller”). Published in 1936 by Godwin, Publishers, it is among the rarest of Fuller’s publications, never having been re-printed. Thanks to a friend, I was able to borrow a copy to read it, and I’m glad I did. Test Tube Baby offers a fascinating glimpse into the growth of an artist. After a slow start, there’s a spark in the middle of the book where Fuller’s voice suddenly comes to life. This is the sort of book that only Fuller could have written: a nitro-tabloid stylized melodrama about the moral struggles of a good boy who wants to be bad, infused with petty con-men, punch-drunk ex-boxers, Park Row news-hawks, and tramps. The plot might be sensational—and nonsensical—at points, but Fuller, fresh from his tenure on the New York Evening Graphic, sees the world through a front-page lens, and tells his story through all-caps headlines. Test Tube Baby is wild, and perhaps uneven in quality, but as a Fuller devotee, I treasure the insight this offered into his artistry.

"The Pitfall" by Jay Dratler (1947, re-published by Stark House Press 2022)

While the 1948 film Pitfall has risen to be regarded as a film noir classic, Jay Dratler’s original 1947 novel The Pitfall has been unjustly neglected. Stark House Press, re-releasing the book for the first time since 1956, reveals that Dratler’s novel is darker, sleazier and less forgiving than the film it inspired. A brutal portrait of blind lust and self-destruction that out-Cains even James M. Cain, Dratler’s The Pitfall deserves to known as a stellar example of 1940s American noir. Stark House’s edition, which includes introductions from the author’s son, Jay Dratler, Jr., as well as novelist Timothy J. Lockhart, will hopefully restore the novel’s rightful reputation.

In the novel, Jon Forbes is a successful screenwriter who seemingly has it all. He has a daughter, Ann, devoted to him; and his wife, Sue, is pregnant with their second child. And he works his own schedule—afternoons and evenings—at home, where his secretary Kate takes dictation. He even has a friend on the police force, Mac, who gives him insider tips for his scripts.

And all it takes is one whisper from Mac about Mona, the wife of a purse snatcher named Smiley currently serving three months, to sink his entire life. Mac wants Jon to cozy up to Mona and pave the way for him. Jon disagrees at first, but can’t get Mona out of his mind. Pretending to be a friend of her husband, Jon arranges to have a drink at a hotel bar. And from the moment they meet, Jon’s doomed fate is sealed—if only he were smart enough to realize it.

"Beach Bodies" by Nick Kolakowski (2022)

Beach Bodies, the latest novel from Nick Kolakowski, is a mind-trip, genre-bending twist on the home invasion scenario, and its swiftly-moving 139 page pack a whole lot of weirdness.

The set-up is straightforward: Julia is working as caretaker to a billionaire prepper’s bunker located at a remote beach-front area. Staying with her is her ex-boyfriend Alec, a wanna-be crypto bro recovering from a shrapnel injury obtained in Ukraine. When the motion detectors sense intruders, Julia investigates and finds three people, one of whom is badly injured. Her job forbids her to let her in—but these people won’t take no for an answer.

What ensues is decidedly not-so-straightforward. Every time I thought I had an inkling of what was coming around the corner, Kolakowski defied expectation, and took the story into marvelously messed-up places I never saw coming.

Bless Kolakowski and his warped imagination, who offers moments of high-octane thrills; gross-out comedy; Cronenberg-y body horror; a bar-sex scene set to a Rudolph Valentino-Nita Naldi silent film I never knew I wanted so badly; and, in the quiet moments between the batshit craziness, there’s perceptive scenes about two young lovers who are shitty to themselves and each other because they still have a lot to learn. 

This is gonzo noir, and I love it.

"The Paris Manuscript" by Joseph Goodrich (2022)

I was fully enraptured by Joseph Goodrich’s The Paris Manuscript, a historical noir set at the dawn of the fabled AnnĂ©es folles that is at turns dark, whimsical, nostalgic, and deeply moving. Structured like an on-rush of memories, the book begins in 1979 when elderly widower Ned Jameson goes through an old trunk while deciding whether to move in with his daughter, the contents of which send him back to 1919, in the years following World War I, where he lived with his wife, Daisy. Tormented by memories of the war, he worked as a journalist, and Daisy as an illustrator. Intrigue overtakes their lives when Daisy’s brother is blackmailed into becoming a saboteur. After the blackmailer is found murdered at a party they were attending, Ned begins to suspect Daisy is behind it—and he sets out to find the truth with an unlikely amateur detective, Marcel Proust, who volunteered at a hospital during the war.

When Proust enters the picture, The Paris Manuscript takes on a wonderful air that’s almost magical realist at times, but Goodrich keeps it grounded, making Proust a believable character within the drama at hand. When one thinks about it, isn’t In Search of Lost Time the underlying theme of so many noir works? In this sense, Proust makes a natural, though not obvious, sleuth proxy. Through Proust, Goodrich also makes a strong case for the detective-as-artist (or, is it, artist-as-detective?). “My asthma made it impossible for me to leave the car,” Proust recalls. “…I had to content myself by feeding upon what I could see. But what I can see is never enough… I must extrapolate. I am predisposed to the art of detection by illness… What I do as an artist is not so very different form what I do when I discovered [a clue which you’ll have to read the book to find out!]”

New Acquisitions: November 19, 2022

 Aviation pulp, anyone? Time for a deep dive into the early work of David Goodis. Here's a large pile of Fighting Aces that I've amassed recently.

New Acquisitions: Nov. 14, 2022

A few recent additions to the library: Beach Bodies (2022) by Nick Kolakowski, Say Goodbye When I'm Gone (2020) by Stephen J. Golds, and Corruption City by Horace McCoy (1959).

Got a Light? In Search of the Samuel Fuller Matchbook

Anybody got a light? Not that I smoke, but I am looking for a special matchbook created by Samuel Fuller to commemorate the publication of his 1936 novel Burn, Baby, Burn. According to the Pottstown, Pennsylvania Pottstown Mercury, one million of these promotional tchotchkes were produced. Maybe one of them is out there, somewhere.

(Pottstown Mercury, January 21, 1936, page 4)

Pulp Modern: Halloween Horror Issue (vol. 2, no. 9, Fall 2022)

The latest issue of Pulp Modern (vol. 2, no. 9, Fall 2022), edited by Alec Cizak, subtitled Halloween Horror Issue, is a terrific collection. I greatly enjoyed all the pieces, and appreciate Cizak's curation, which brought together a nice variety of fiction, non-fiction, and illustrations, all of which complement each other in how different they are, and together celebrate the breadth of the horror genre. Among my favorites were the opener (Ramsey Campbell's "Out of Copyright") and closer (Stanley Rutgers' "Rejection"), which both offer macabre takes on the publishing industry. In "Out of Copyright," an unscrupulous editor gets more than he bargained for when he republishes a rare text, and in "Rejection" a frustrated writer will do anything to get published in his favorite magazine. Bookending the issue with both stories was a clever and effective editorial choice not only for the obvious thematic similarity, but also because they highlight something key to horror: desire, and most specifically what happens when one is confronted directly with desire. 

Recent Acquisitions: A Trip to the Mysterious Bookshop

I decided to make an out-of-the-way pit-stop at the Mysterious Bookshop on my way home from work to pick up a signed copy of Lawrence Block's The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown. As expected, I found a couple other things I had been looking forward, and several I didn't know that I had been looking for but clearly should have been. Stark House Press/Black Gat's reissue of Robert Silverberg's Killer, a whole ton of vintage A.A. Fair paperbacks, a reprint of Day Keene's Homicidal Lady that I didn't have, and lots more.

From Gil Brewer to Harry Whittington

I'm suffering from some serious book envy today. Royal Books has a first edition hardcover of Gil Brewer's The Red Scarf for sale, inscribed from Gil to Harry Whittington and his wife Kathryn with some writerly tough-love motivationFor Harry and Kathryn:

Harry, if you don’t sit yourself down and write the honest to God book of your guts very soon, I’m sure as hell going to bash you over the head with a sledge hammer.

I mean it.

Since I can't afford this treasure, I'll have to be content with the images posted by the seller. 

"The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown" by Lawrence Block (2022)

Wouldn’t it be nice to curl up with a good book, doze off, and wake up in that world? That’s a question Lawrence Block explores in his latest novel, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown, the 12th novel to feature professional thief and Greenwich Village bookstore-owner Bernie Rhodenbarr. No one’s asking me to contain my enthusiasm, and so I won’t—I absolutely loved this book, and I think any of Bernie’s many fans will, too.

As a big fan of Block and his Bernie series, this didn’t disappoint in the slightest, hitting all the hallmarks of the series that readers have come to expect. The humor, the Greenwich Village setting, the warm friendship between him and series regular Carolyn, and of course the burglary. But Block also takes readers into new territory. The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown is much more a fantasia than the earlier volumes. If you’re familiar with Brown, then you might have a little idea what’s in store, and if not, then it might help to know that Brown was an ardent admirer of Lewis Carroll, and there’s more than a hint of Wonderland in both his works and in Block’s latest. I found Block’s incursion into magical realism to be an absolute delight.

Justin Marriott Interview

Last year I had the pleasure of contributing to Justin Marriott's Paperbacks at War: 20th Century Conflict from the Front Lines of Vintage Paperbacks, Pulps and Comics, an in-depth look at over 170 wartime classics (and some not-so-classics). I wrote about Doomsday Mission by Harry Whittington, Hell to Eternity by Edward S. Aarons, The Dirty War of Sergeant Slade by Lou Cameron, Gresham's War by William Crawford, and Skylark Mission by Ian MacAlister.

Marriott is a prolific editor, writer, and publisher, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work and Paperbacks at War.

Before we talk about Paperbacks at War, could you give a little background about yourself, and how your interest in literature developed?

I’m a pretty average Joe. Early 50s, married with two young daughters and living in a coastal town in the West of England. The day job is for a large financial organization where I work as a project manager in IT. 

I’ve still yet to develop any interest in literature! But I was a voracious reader from an early age, especially of comics, a habit I inherited from my dad. Growing up in the 70s in the UK, it was an age before video, and there were only 3 TV channels, all with limited programming aimed at kids. So Dr. Who was a must see on Saturday evenings, and the novelizations of Doctor Who were the first genre books I encountered. These were in the form of hardbacks loaned from the local library. I would read them cover to cover in a day. Even at that early age, I started to identify which authors I preferred—with Terrence Dicks, the creator of the Daleks, being a favourite. 

Jason Starr Interview

Back in June 2011, I interviewed Jason Starr about his then-latest novel, The Pack, and the interview was published by Spinetingler Magazine. Since the site is down, I've republished the interview below.


In Jason Starr's The Pack, advertising executive Simon Burns life goes into a tailspin after he’s fired from his job. Marriage counseling isn’t helping the intimacy issues with his wife, and being a stay-at-home-dad is harder than it at first seemed. Things start to look up when he meets a group of dads at the playground: Simon has guys to hang out with during the day, and his kid has other children to play with. But after a night of partying, Simon blacks out and wakes up in the woods naked, and all he can remember about his dreams is a wolf. The nightmare continues to haunt him, and as his body begins undergoing changes, Simon fears that he, in fact, might be turning into a werewolf.

Yes—a werewolf—but don’t start thinking this is another Twilight spin-off. Nor is The Pack anything close to a conventional horror novel. The story is less about physical transformation than it is emotional and psychological changes, and how they can affect—and sometimes destroy—a relationship. Simon is one of Starr’s most realistically and sympathetically crafted characters, and the slow dissolution of his marriage is harrowingly and poignantly written. Much like Panic Attack, The Pack is really about the discovery of a father’s latent violent urges and the disastrous after-affects it has on his family.

Don’t let the werewolf element throw you off. The Pack is pure Jason Starr, and it is one of his most gripping novels yet.

Exorcism (1975)

Cult auteur Jess Franco stars in Exorcism (1975) as Mathis Vogel, a defrocked priest who now makes a living writing erotic stories for porno mags edited by Franval (Pierre Taylou). After overhearing Frontal and his secretary/girlfriend Anna (Lina Romay) plan a Black Mass-themed orgy, Vogel mistakenly thinks the Satanic ceremonies to be real, and begins stalking and purifying the orgy's participants--by murdering them. 

Alternately erotic, surreal, and menacing (and often all at the same time), this is one of the strongest Franco films I've seen thus far. The narrative is fairly cohesive and straightforward, and gives structure to Franco's pscyho-sexual environs. 

The opening sequence, of two women enacting an S&M performance on stage for an audience, introduces a key theme of the movie and of Franco's work as a whole: the intertwining of performance, role-playing, voyeurism, and eroticism. Nearly every encounter in the film, whether sexual or not, involves some element of performativity. Whether its two lovers expressing submission and domination, or a college-educated cop competing with his street-wise superior, Franco seems interested in the extent to which people are always acting, and whether even the most seemingly "normal" elements of our reality are, in some ways, fictional fantasies of their own. 

The version of Exorcism streaming on Kino Cult is sourced from varying prints, and some scenes show minor damage (such as scratches), and certain sequences inter-cut between different prints in order to deliver the most complete version of the film possible. Despite this, the colors are strong and not faded, making this an overall very attractive presentation of the film. Kino's Blu-ray also includes a cut-down version called Demoniac (exclusive to the disc, not streaming), which focuses more on the horror elements of the film, and includes alternate footage and less nudity.  

The Age of Cinema (2022)

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in a feature-length essay film experiment by director Matt Barry. As part of a folk-film challenge, we decided to make our own movie during the Oscars broadcast. Filmed over Zoom, the result was The Age of Cinema (2022), a discussion about the intersection of personal collecting and film history. I also had the pleasure of writing original music for the opening sequence. 

"Test Tube Baby" by Sam Fuller (1936)

Test Tube Baby is the second novel from Samuel Fuller (here credited as “Sam Fuller”). Published in 1936 by Godwin, Publishers, it is among...