Happiness is a Warm Pulp: Classic crime fiction of 1963

Happiness_is_a_Warm_PuppyLast month I decided to see if it might be nice to adopt a year as the theme for this month’s round-up. Turns out 1963 (chosen at random by one of the Minor Offences) was quite an eventful year. In the US they got the I Have a Dream speech and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Slightly less dramatically we Brits had the Great Train Robbery and the first episode of Doctor Who. In music there was The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and James Brown Live at the Apollo. In books, there was The Bell Jar, V., Billy Liar, The Graduate,  Happiness is a Warm Puppy, and also some crime fiction, as we see here…

TracyK at Bitter Tea and Mystery got in first, and also won extra kudos by finding a 1963 Len Deighton (my main author this month): Horse Under Water.

In Deighton’s introduction to this book, he talks about how he gathered research from the War Museum in Lambeth, using books, films and documents stored there: “In the final year of the war, there had been tremendous scientific advances in undersea warfare and I pursued these reports — British, American and German — with particular zeal. The War Museum’s librarian asked me to help by categorizing the material I examined, so that I became an unofficial member of the Museum staff.”

The_Spy_WhoSticking with the spies, The Game’s Afoot tackled what must be regarded as the year’s biggest genre novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and looked at why it was so influential.

Despite its dark and gloomy tone, the story is narrated with great skill and the result is brilliant. The dialogues are excellent and the characters are indeed astounding. The central theme revolves around the consequences of our actions and exposes the unorthodox methods, if I may put it in this way, that are used even by the secret services of countries that consider themselves an example of democracy and transparency. Today a modern classic, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold marked an  important milestone not only in its genre, but also in literature with capital letters.

Moira at Clothes in Books managed to find a very suitable title for her blog: Murder a la Mode by Patrica Moyes:

… set in the offices of a fashion magazine, where one of the writers has been murdered in the aftermath of the Paris collections, as the staff pull an all-nighter to prepare for their biggest issue of the year. While the magazine is called Style, you wouldn’t be in a moment’s doubt that we are talking Vogue here, and the authenticity is so very obvious that I didn’t really need to check on Moyes’ biography on Wikipedia to find out that she worked there as Assistant Editor.

It’s a short step from fashion to, ahem, modelling. Rex Parker at Pop Sensation gave me the only 1963 book I spotted in the wild: James Harvey’s Camera Club Model.

Best things about this cover:
– Armpit fetishists, you’re in luck!
– Offscreen mystery hand preserves the modesty. I’m imagining the photographer of this picture directing the photographers *in* the picture: “Little to the right … down … perfect!”

Not sure if it’s a crime novel, but it’s definitely a pulp.

The ClocksMy submission was Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, entertaining enough but an also-ran in my opinion. Bernadette at Reactions to Reading approached The Clocks from another direction – listening to an audio version read by High Fraser.

Another thing that struck me was Poirot’s new (and fleeting?) obsession with crime fiction. There’s a long passage in which Poirot talks about mystery novels he has been reading (some of them real books and some not) and his solution to the case is bound up with his intimate knowledge of a range of writers and their styles. I know these days it is common for fictional detectives to have copies of crime novels on their bedside tables but Poirot has previously been a bit dismissive of fictional detectives if he has mentioned them at all. He never even seems that impressed with the work of his novelist friend Ariadne Oliver. So his sudden love for these novels seems like another experiment on Christie’s behalf and it didn’t ring particularly true for me. Or perhaps she felt the need to follow a new trend

Bernadette also points out The Clocks has more than the usual number of female characters in charge of their own destinies. Then Moira came back with a second 1963 title, Celia Fremlin’s The Trouble-Makers:

It’s hard to find a category for Fremlin – if you use the word ‘domestic’ then it sounds as though they are cosy, and the books are from that. The settings tend to be suburban houses in the 1960s and 70s. The protagonist in this one is a married woman with children, a house, a husband and a job. She is vaguely dissatisfied, and so are her friends and neighbours. That could be any kind of book from 1963…

Curt at The Passing Tramp read the usually-light-hearted Leo Bruce’s Crack of Doom, which…

… inaugurated a period of lessened levity in the [gentleman-sleuth Carolus] Deene books.  Its plot is rather grim. The opening pages of the novel are taken from the diary of an aspiring murderer in the resort town of Selby-on-Sea. This person discloses therein that s/he is planning to commit, for the sheer thrill of it, the perfect murder: one that is without motive (“I shall simply kill the first person who comes along”).

Freewheelin_Bob_DylanJohn at Pretty Sinister Books looked at A Sad Song Singing by Thomas A. Dewey, the story of a missing folk-singer that becomes a pursuit thriller:

It’s the story of Cress and her complete immersion in the folk singing scene that makes for a fascinating read. Dewey creates a variety of coffeehouse locations from swank carpeted establishments that serve meals and alcohol to the dingiest dive serving only regular coffee and apologies for the broken espresso machine from a leotard wearing waitress while college boys play chess and turtleneck attired beatniks strum their guitars on a wobbly wooden stage. The atmosphere feels oddly old-fashioned, almost cliche and yet wholly authentic.

I’m awarding this one the most-1963-ish book of the bunch.

Finally, Tracy at Bitter Tea looked at Rex Stout’s The Mother Hunt, prompting me to consider the fact that I have never read a Nero Wolfe novel. Is it just me, or is he not-much-read on the right-hand side of the Atlantic?

So: Does anybody fancy doing another theme in July? If so, first person to reply gets to pick the year 🙂

*Presses Publish, hopes to God he hasn’t missed anybody*

*****UPDATE 7TH JULY*****

In line with my ‘no blogger left behind’ policy, I’m adding in Col’s review of Michael Avallone’s Shock Corridor at his Criminal Library.

We have our young ambitious journalist, Johnny Barrett faking insanity with the blessing of his editor and against the wishes of his knockout stripper girlfriend, Cathy. Barrett pretends Cathy is his sister, who files a complaint against him – alleging he keeps trying to have sex with her. After a brief investigation and an evaluation of Barrett’s mental health he is committed. Having successfully completed the initial part of his plan, Barrett has access to the same ward and staff and witnesses as those involved in the unsolved murder case which he is trying to crack.

You can’t question Barrett’s commitment…


About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in Classic crime round-up, Crime fiction of the year challenge, Information Received and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Happiness is a Warm Pulp: Classic crime fiction of 1963

  1. realthog says:

    Is this restricted to books? I’d enjoy finding an interesting old movie or two to cover on my site for whatever might be the chosen year.


  2. Oh I would love another challenge Rich – I always want to read more classics but need a bit of a push to do so and finding something for a random year seems to work out well.


  3. TracyK says:

    Until I saw your comments about events in 1963, I had forgotten that in the US this was also the year of the bombing of the Birmingham church. I was in B’ham at the time and just recently watched a documentary (Four Little Girls). Sad times, but good books coming out of that year.

    Yes, I am all in favor of another challenge.


  4. MarinaSofia says:

    How did I not hear about this challenge in time? I’d love to take part if and when you are organising a next one. Such a wonderful variety of reads – and yes would love to see films too…


  5. Great roundup Rich, and the year challenge was inspired, everyone loved it. And films would make a great addition. Has no-one suggested a year yet?

    How about going back further and doing 1939….?


  6. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I read a *lot* of Nero Wolfe some years ago but I think he’s definitely less well-known in the Uk – which is a shame because what I read was excellent!


  7. Keishon says:

    I was going to chip in with something from the 1950’s but 1939 is fine with me. Just need to find out what authors were popular during that time period…


  8. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have read Crack of Doom (aka Such is Death) by Leo Bruce. It is a witty and entertaining read, fairly well clued, with a clever plot idea. Definitely worth reading.


  9. Pingback: Review: An Advancement of Learning, by Reginald Hill | The Game's Afoot

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