Blasts from the Past

Some of the All-Time Great Publishers of Hardboiled and Detective Fiction (and a Handful of Favourites)

I've just started this page, and I realize I really know very little about the history of publishing in this genre, so any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated. You know the drill--if you have any further info, let me know. And yeah, I know that many of these are paperback publishers, and often the authors they've published are really only the paperback reprints. But plenty of people read paperbacks. And these companies have certainly made a difference in our genre.

  • Alfred K. Knopf
    Founded 1915, New York City

In 1929, they published Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. In 1939, they unleashed Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. In 1949, they released Ross Macdonald's The Moving Target. Not a bad track record, eh?

Published: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald. Does it matter who else they published?

  • T.V. Boardman Books
    Founded 1930s, London

This London-based publisher produced an astounding number of hard-boiled titles for the U.K market over their 40-year run, both paperback and hardcover books, pulp magazines, and comics. But they're best known for publishing the long-running monthly series of hardcover Bloodhound Mysteries, most with jacket illustrations by famed illustrator Denis McLoughlin. The Bloodhound line (McLoughlin did the logo, as well) reprinted many of the great American hard-boiled authors of its era (including Gault, Fisher, Deming, Dewey, and indeed their Best American Detective Stories of the Year series that ran in the fifties and sixties is considered by plenty of folks, including me, to be just about the best damn collection of hard-boiled fiction ever published.

  • Pocket Books
    Founded 1938, New York City

Robert de Graff launched this enormously successful line in 1938 with the publication of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth.

  • Série noire
    Founded 1945, Paris

French publisher Gallimard's seminal crime fiction imprint, founded by Marcel Duhamel, was one of the first to, as Sarah Weinman put it, "more than any other, in any country, put together what was classic and cool about the genre. The books were, for the most part, hardboiled and American... They had uniform covers, stark black with yellow lettering for title and author" and "predated Fawcett's Gold Medal paperback original imprint of the 1950s and Black Lizard of the 1980s, two other publishing lines that helped define the American hardboiled sensibility."

Published: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Horace McCoy, W.R. Burnett, Ed McBain, Chester Himes, Lou Cameron, Jim Thompson, James Hadley Chase and Peter Cheney.

  • Fawcett Gold Medal
    1950, New York City

The kings of the PBO! Until Fawcett unleashed its Gold Medal imprint in 1950, almost all paperbacks were reprints of previously-published hardcovers, with a big chunk of the profits going, not to the paperback publishers, or even the authors, but to the hardcover publishers. For writers whose books sold mostly in paperback (like, say, mysteries, it must have been extremely frustrating to see all that money going to a publisher who didn't seem to be doing much more than collecting royalties. So Fawcett started sniffing around for original material, with the radical idea of publishing paperback originals. It was the first serious challenge to the hardcover's domination of the book industry, and an idea whose time had come. Within a few years, Avon, Graphic, Lion and Dell (with their First Edition line), were all trying to make a mark with PBO's. In the next ten years, it wasn't uncommon for those funky yellow-spined Gold Medal books to sell over a million copies of one title. Fawcett was evenbtually sold to CBS and later to Random House. It's still around, but Fawcett and Gold Medal are just imprints now of a giant publishing empire.

Published: Richard Prather, Stephen Marlowe, John D. MacDonald, Dan Marlowe, Peter Rabe, Charles Williams, Vin Packer, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Wade Miller, Gil Brewer, Lionel White, Bruno Fischer, Harry Whittington, Peter Corris, Janet Dawson, and about a zillion P.I. and crime one-shots and stand-alones.

  • Lion Books
    Founded 1949, New York City

Founded by Martin Goodman. A small paperback imprint, that published between 1949 and 1955, that sprang up in the wake of Gold Medal's tremendous success with paperback originals. It was eventually bought out by New Amercan Library. They published reprints, but also commissioned originals by writers such as Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson. They also employed some pretty spiffy cover artists, including Earle K. Bergey, Robert Maguire and Rudolph Belarski.

Published: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Robert Bloch, Russell Gray (Bruno Fischer), Richard Matheson, Ken Millar, Day Keene, Richard Prather, Frank Gruber (westerns).

  • Dell
    Founded 1921, New York City

An American publisher of books, magazines and comic books, founded in 1921 by George T. Delacorte, Jr. During the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Dell was one of the largest publishers of magazines, including pulps, and entered into paperback book publishing in 1943 with their beloved "mapbacks," eagerly sought by collectors, and so lovingly parodied by Uglytown's Benjamin Drake series. Between 1943 and 1953, Dell's Scene of the Crime series, as they were officially called, were smallish paperbacks featuring excellent cover art in vibrant colors, a distinctive keyhole logo, and a clever map on the back cover that illustrated the scene of the action detailed on the pages within. Writers featured in the series included Agatha Christie, George Harmon Coxe, John Dickson Carr, Brett Halliday, A.A. Fair, and even John Steinbeck.
Headed by legendary editor, Knox Burger, the Dell First Editions imprint began in 1953, and were probably the only real rival Gold Medal had, as far as PBO's went. Dell continues to be a major reprinter of hardcover mysteries to this day.

Published: Dashiell Hammett, David Goodis, Donald Hamilton, Brett Halliday, Henry Kane, Frank Kane, A.A. Fair, Charles Williams, Robert Kyle, David Dodge, Thomas B. Dewey (the Pete Schoefield series), Robert Dietrich (aka "E. Howard Hunt"), David Markson, Robert B. Parker, Jonathan Valin, Janet Dawson.

  • Signet

Another of the great paperback publishers.

Published: Ed McBain's 87th Precint, Wade Miller, Carter Brown, Mike Roscoe

  • Graphic Books

Run by Samuel Tankel and Zane Bouregy, Graphic Books was a short-lived New York publisher of paperback originals, mostly mysteries, that thrived from about 1949 to 1957. Now mostly recalled for their deliciously sleazy covers, not their literary merit. They did manage to publish authors such as Harry Whittington, Frank Gruber, Day Keene and William Irish, although most of their catalogue was supplied by such notorious masters of the "alternative classic" as Paul Whelton, A.A. Marcus and Milton K. Ozaki. One of the few genre publishers of the time to never publish science fiction.

  • Black Lizard

A remarkably successful and influential publishing venture, the "Lizard" rescued classic pulp fiction originally published from the late 40sto the early 60s for a whole new generation of readers in the eighties, and were largely responsible for rescuing the likes of Jim Thompson, David Goodis and a host of others from obscurity. An imprint of Creative Arts Book Company of Berkeley, California, Black Lizard was the inspiration of novelist Barry Gifford, who chose the titles, and did the paperwork, dealing with the authors or their agents. Random House bought out Black Lizard in the early 90s. Later known as Vintage/Black lizard, and sometimes just Vintage, they continue to mine the past, releasing classy paperback reprints of some of the masters.

Published: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald.

  • Black Box Thrillers

Maxim Jakubowskimfirst entered hard-boiled and noir publishing with this short-lived but fondly remembered series of thriller reprints for Zomba. Each omnibus volume would reprint three or four novels by classic American authors.

Published: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Horace McCoy & W. R. Burnett.

  • Allison & Busby

Part of the eighties revival in the UK of classic noir and hard-boiled, Allison & Busby published several books by authors such as Chester Himes, Richard Stark, Lawrence Block, Wade Miller, Ross Macdonald and even Ted Lewis (of Get Carter fame).

Published: Chester Himes, Richard Stark, Lawrence Block, Wade Miller, Ross Macdonald, Ted Lewis

  • Blue Murder

Blue Murder (no relation to the pivotal hard-boiled ezine) was responsible for a slew of classic reprints of again mostly (but not exclusively) American hard-boiled classics, back in the late eighties/early nineties, and exposed a whole generation of readers to books that had long been out of print, including Leigh Brackett and Delores Hitchens. Blue murder was an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and later Xandadu. Maxim Jakubowski, who got his start with Black Box Thrillers, was the series editor for this pivotal series of books.

Published: Leigh Brackett, Gil Brewer, David Goodis, Davis Grubb, Geoffrey Homes, Newton Thornburg, Charles Williams, Cornell Woolrich, Dolores Hitchens, Jonathan Latimer, Jim Thompson, L. A. Morse.

  • Mysterious Press

Otto Penzler's imprint treated mysteries of all kinds with the respect they deserved, releasing new and reprinted fiction and non-fiction.

Published: James Ellroy, David Pierce, Stuart Kamisky, Marcia Muller, Parnell Hall, collections of pulpsters such as Carroll John Daly, Norbert Davis, Erle Stanley Gardner; non-fiction by Bill Pronzini

  • St. Martin's Press

They've published a ton of P.I. books over the years, and showed their committment to the genre by co-sponsoring the Private Eye Writer's of America on their Best First P.I. Novel Contest for several years.

Published: Les Roberts, Jerry Kenealy

  • Stewart

This publisher's ambitious mission was to bring back into print all of the mystery fiction of pulp author Fredric Brown. And they kicked it off right, reprinting the entire Ed and Am Hunter series. And the site was to die for, full of attractive graphics, biographical and bibliographical info, and even a message board or two. But it all came to naught when founder and editor Stewart Masters passed away.

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