The Naughty List
The following hard-boiled and noir crime novels and/or authors have all been banned or restricted at one time or another. Not that they necessarily stopped anyone from reading them, but they tried.
Of course, any raving peabrain with an axe to grind can challenge a book, but it takes a perfect storm of ignorance, intolerance, handwringing and chicken shit bureaucracy to actually ban a book.
The biggest disappointment, though? That there aren't as many crime and detective novels that have actually been banned as I'd thought; surprising when you consider how subversive crime novels can be. Hell, you get right down to it, this list is embarrassingly skimpy.
Come on, guys -- you can do better than this...
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
Banned in the Soviet Union in 1929 because of -- get this -- "occultism." You thought this kind of woo-woo paranoia was limited to fundamentalist Bible humpers in the Midwest? Nyet, nyet...
- Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon (1930)
The Thin Man (1934)
Both of these seminal works were of the genre were, as they say, "banned in Boston," for sexual content. Canada also banned importation of the latter for a scene where Nora asks Nick if he got an erection while struggling with Mimi. "A little," he admits.
Years later, when Hammett was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951and he refused to testify, he was sentenced to prison for several months, and when McCarthy's interest turned to banning pro-Communist books. Hammett's work was promptly deemed subversive and recommended for suppression. His entire backlist was actually banned for a while by the State Department.
- James M. Cain
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
Double Indemnity (1943)
Both of these noir classics were banned in Boston (and elsewhere).
- Jonathan Latimer
Solomon's Graveyard (1941)
Another classic of the genre, this hardboiled American classic was published in 1941, but only in the UK. The Fifth Grave, a heavily bowdlerized version, finally came out in the '50s in the States, but the less said about that piece of ham-handed editing the better.)
- Mickey Spillane
Most of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels could not be imported into Australia,. James Hadley Chase and James M. Cain also were barred.
- James Hadley Chase
Most of his novels were banned from Australia.
- Horace McCoy
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948)
I'm not exactly sure why (or where) this was banned but it made 2011 Open Road's Banned Book List. And given that this tale of an Ivy League grad's wallow in the criminal underbelly of society was tagged by Time Magazine as "one of the nastiest novels ever published in this country," so you figure it out.
- Bret Easton Ellis
American Psycho (1991)
This bleak, vicious slice of consumerism noir has had a rough ride in many places. Its original American publisher balked at publishing it, and the book wasn't even published in hardcover in the States until 2012. Upon its release in 1991, the author received numerous death threats and hate mail. It was banned in Germany as "harmful to minors," and in Australia and New Zealand it's sold shrink-wrapped and can only be sold to those over eighteen.
- Pulp Magazines: Banned in Australia!
Including Black Mask, True Detective, True Crime and Best Detective Cases
Pulp mags, both those featuring crime fiction,and those featuring purportedly "true" accounts of crime, exploded onto the scene in the 1930s, but they found no favor with the guardians of decency in Australia's Customs Department,who deemed the magazines "prohibited imports" under their obscenity laws, despite the fact that neither the fiction or non-fiction crime mags featured sexually explicit material. Ironically, the laws remained on the books well into the seventies, long after most pulps had ceased publication.
Not that I'm necessarily picking on the Aussies, by the way. By their own admission, however, they claim that "...during most of the 20th century Australia was one of the strictest censors in the western world," frequently banning "what was considered suitable reading in England, Europe and America."
On the bright side, the Commonwealth Customs Department, which had the authority to prohibit imports, maintains a reference library of around 15,000 books, magazines and comics that had been banned in Australia from the the 1920s through to the 1970s, with many of the titles long out of print and extremely rare. And for those of us who don't live in Australia, they have a fascinating section dedicated to banned publications in their national archives.
- Mike Kerrigan
Once Upon a Crime (1953)
As previously noted, Australia wasn't exactly welcoming pulp fiction with open arms. So the fact that Once Upon a Crime (1953) by Mike Kerrigan, a quickie pulp novella put out by London's Milestone Publications and obviously aiming to ape the American hard-boiled style, was seized by customs officials in Sydney in August 1954 shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone.
What does make it interesting is that, thanks to the Australian National Archives' great Banned web site, we actually have correspondence from a G. Foster, apparently an Australian customs inspector, who helpfully summarized the plot of the book before making his recommendation:
"Mike Kerrigan, a struggling investigator, is hired by Wendy Lane to find out the true story of the killing of Fats Balfour. On circumstantial evidence her father is incriminated. Kerrigan eventually, after a sucession of escapades, traps the killer. The story is brutal with the killer, Lola Laine, supplying the usual sex angle. Prohibition is recommended."
The entry concludes by noting that "Customs placed an import ban on the novel on 22 November 1954.." Not that it probably made much of a difference -- "Mike Kerrigan" was almost surely a house name and the book was most likely instantly forgettable. Foster's critique may have been the only review it received.
Preliminary list respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith, with help from Yvonne Klein. Have I missed any?
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