Perhaps no other author today has done so much to keep alive the “Pulp Fiction” genre than Ed Gorman. Not only as an award winning author ( Spur Award for Best Short Fiction, "The Face" in 1992. His fiction collection Cages was nominated for the 1995 Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection. His collection The Dark Fantastic was nominated for the same award in 2001.) but as archivist, historian, and commentator. He has written in the fields of terror/horror, speculative fiction, and of course hardboiled/noir crime fiction.
His Sam McCain novels are perhaps my favorites ... but I have not only a soft spot for crime fiction but also a nostalgic bent for the ‘50s. McCain embodies all the traits we love of the hardboiled detective; he’s smart, quick with a quip, educated, but struggling for a buck, honest and honorable (at least to his own personal code), he’s personally brave, almost chivalrous, and like a bulldog at unraveling a mystery.
But, he is also dichotomous in that he is a little guy at just over five and a half feet, and thus, not one to quickly get in a fight. He was never a cop or a soldier, doesn’t “really” hate authority, has dinner at least once a week with mom and dad, loves rock and roll, not jazz, isn’t a big drinker. Instead of that ‘30s-‘40s fedora-wearing, zoot-suited PI, driving a Model ‘A’ or some other piece of Detroit iron with running boards, McCain loves ‘50s hotrods. McCain is a recent law school grad who gets his PI license to make ends meet and broaden his prospects.
Also, to break the mold of most pulp/hardboiled crime fiction, his mysteries don’t take place in a large city (L.A., Chicago, N.Y. or their fictionally renamed likenesses). Instead, the stories take place, mainly, in a small Iowa town where McCain grew up. And to further break the mold, the crimes McCain ends up investigating aren’t stolen pearls or bank robberies, or the theft of historical artifacts. They are crimes to take the sheen off of the nostalgia shown in the popular media for the ‘50s. This isn’t Happy Days. This isn’t American Graffiti. This is not the ‘50s of Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best.
Instead, Gorman takes for his themes the real crimes of the '50s. Gorman writes about the social ills of the decade, some of which are still with us today. Racial inequality and bigotry, male chauvinism, and the lack of women’s rights, union busting, red baiting, and McCarthyism and the large parts of the country that were still in the grips of poverty.