Hey, remember in the late 19th century when we’d all go spend a few pennies each week to buy a novel? Wasn’t that e’er so keen?
No? Then, barring a time machine, your best bet at replicating those early days of pulp literature is this welcome anthology, collecting five short novels from way back when.
Several popular genres are represented, starting with swashbuckling Western hero Dashing Diamond Dick, and also including an “air-ship” adventure, a baseball story, an American Revolution tale and — perhaps most accessible — a mystery featuring detective Nick Carter. Recurring characters often were featured in a new, self-contained “dime novel” every seven days, and J. Randolph Cox’s introductory essays shed great light on this all-but-forgotten but once wildly popular phenomenon.
Although the writing differs widely, much of it falls in the division of clunky, even hackneyed, thus stretching the definition of the Penguin Classics line. But, as Cox points out, these novels are being presented more for their historical and pop-culture value, and not for significant contributions to American letters. Fans of Forties pulp will get a kick out of these forerunners, however fleeting. Reproductions of the novels’ original covers make it even more fun. —Rod Lott