Friday, November 20, 2009

Lester, we hardly knew ye

Over on Davey Crockett's Almanac writer Evan Lewis reviews the Lester Dent novel Dead At The Take-Off, which I immediately ordered on Abe.

Dent's always fascinated me. He wrote something like eighty Doc Savage novels and maybe forty Avenger novels plus numerous other pulp stories all the while wanting to be taken more seriously by his peers. He seemed to be on his way with his story Anglefish, which is still frequently reprinted. That was his Black Mask story and he was convinced that editor Joseph "Cap" Shaw was going to teach him how to be a better writer. Then Shaw left Black Mask and Dent's dreams went with him.

I didn't pay much attention to Dent's crime novels until Hardcase published Honey In His Mouth, a book you really have to read. As I mentioned to Charles Ardai "This is the damnedest book I've ever read."And I'm not exaggerating. The protagonist is the worst person in the book, a sociopathic con man who is presented with cunning and real wit. But the book is filled with sociopathic con artists. And the plot, so wild it threatens to careen out of control every few chapters, is resolved with breathtaking skill. Dent was a real writer, a sly, very modern, very intelligent wordsmith.

I always picture him working nights in that little telegraph office in small town Missouri back before he got invited by Street and Smith to come to NYC. Reading all those pulps and knowing he could do a lot better.

BTW I'm sure pulp experts will correct some of my half-facts here.


James Reasoner said...

Well, Ed, since you mentioned it . . . Dent wrote more than a hundred of the Docs and none of the Avengers, although S&S used the Kenneth Robeson house-name on them. Paul Ernst wrote the Avenger novels from the original pulps, and Ron Goulart wrote the PBOs that were published in the Seventies after all the originals had been reprinted.

I love Dent's Oscar Sail stories for BLACK MASK and remember how impressed I was when I read the one Goulart reprinted in THE HARDBOILED DICKS. I'm looking forward to reading HONEY IN HIS MOUTH.

Evan Lewis said...

I'm about of a third of the way through Honey, and it's heating up nicely.

Four of Dent's novels (including Dead at the Take-Off) can be found at reasonable prices. (Hope you like it, Ed.) But dealers want at least $75 for his third Doubleday book, Lady Afraid, and Lady So Silent, published only in England, seems to be unavailable at any price. A shame.

Brian Drake said...

I enjoy Dent's work, too, Ed, though "Honey" I have yet to read. Have you read any of the recent Doc Savage reprints? You can also find on-line Dent's short story formula, which is a very good lesson in writing, but writing a short story in particular. I used the formula in a story recently posted on "Beat to a Pulp" and it's a wonderful guide, really keeps the story moving. Dent's contribution to the literary landscape covers more than just terrific stories.

Frank Loose said...

I've read Honey in His Mouth, and thought it was terrific. With this book, Dent was way ahead of those that followed him, like Westlake and Leonard, who wrote fiction with a "bad guy" as the protagonist. Honey is great fun, and, for my money, is the best book HCC has issued in quite some time.