From the “Hard Case” Files: Pursuing Pulp’s Heroes

Fifty-to-One by Charles Ardai
Fifty-to-One by Charles Ardai
Back in 2004, Max Phillips and I launched a labor-of-love project we called Hard Case Crime, intended to revive the style of the great old paperback crime novels of the 1940s and 50s.  

We thought it might, if we were lucky, last a half dozen titles before people stopped humoring us.  Last August, we published our 66th title—go figure. 

Along the way, we found ourselves drawn into investigations not all that different from those facing the characters beneath our covers.



Home is the Sailor by Day Keene
Home is the Sailor by Day Keene

We wanted to reprint a book by 1940s pulp writer Day Keene called Home is the Sailor, but no one seemed to know who owned the rights to his work.  Keene himself had died in the 60s; his agent had died; his wife had died; his son had died.  The one lead we had was that “Day Keene” wasn’t his real name—his real name was Gunard Hjerstedt, which was an unusual enough surname to make a bit of old-fashioned detective work a feasible option.  So I tracked down phone numbers for every person in America named Hjerstedt or Hjerdstedt and cold-called them, one by one, asking if anyone had any recollection of a family member named Gunard.  Several dozen phone calls and numerous hand-drawn family trees later, we were finally pointed in the direction of the author’s son’s widow—and Home is the Sailor could come out.

Passport to Peril by Robert B. Parker
Passport to Peril by Robert B. Parker

Poking through a box of battered old books at Gary Lovisi’s annual paperback expo in Manhattan, I stumbled across one called Passport to Peril by Robert B. Parker.  Could this be an early work by the man who later became famous as the creator of the private eye Spenser?  No—the famous Parker was Robert Brown Parker and hadn’t been born until 1932; the author of Passport to Peril was Robert Bogardus Parker and had been a newspaperman during World War II, as well as a clandestine operative for the OSS and an occasional mystery writer.  It was a little like finding the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Harrison Ford and discovering that it’s actually in honor of the silent film actor of the same name.  (That’s true, by the way—it’s not the Harrison Ford you think.)  We asked the more famous Parker if he would write an introduction to our new edition of his namesake’s book; he declined, though he did acknowledge having followed the other Parker’s writing back in the 50s, “for obvious reasons.”

Your Day in the Barrel by Alan Furst
Your Day in the Barrel by Alan Furst

We’re very proud of the books we’ve gotten to publish—but there are some we haven’t, try as we might.  

Alan Furst, known today for his erudite and subtle historical espionage thrillers, got his start with a series of comic romps about a pot dealer, the first of which—Your Day in the Barrel­—was strong enough to earn him an Edgar nomination.  We’d have loved to reprint it—but when weeks of hunting for the author’s home phone number resulted in my getting Furst on the phone and I asked if he’d consider it, I heard him turn to someone else in the room with him and say, “Can you look out the window to see if pigs are flying?”

The Midas Coffin by Simon Quinn
The Midas Coffin by Simon Quinn
Same outcome with Martin Cruz Smith’s early pseudonymous novel about a secret agent for the Vatican, The Midas CoffinHarlan Ellison turned me on to this book, calling me at midnight to read excerpts from it to me, and it’s a great, great read. . .but when we managed—through an intermediary—to reach Smith, we were told he didn’t want to see it back in print. We tried again, through a different intermediary, two years later—still no dice. 

Then there’s The Cocktail Waitress, the never-published final crime novel by James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity—after hunting on two continents, I managed to obtain a copy of Cain’s original typescript. . .but the agents for Cain’s estate won’t even entertain offers.  

Maybe the most painful missed chances, though, have been the chances to work with some of the great pulp artists.  At the age of eighty-five, the legendary James Bama is still painting—but only gallery work, as he retired from doing all forms of commercial illustration back in 1971.  Tracked down at his home in Wyoming, Bama was charming but firm: he’d been invited back by Clint Eastwood, he’d been invited back by George Lucas, and he’d said no to them; no was his answer to us as well.  I still haven’t given up hope, though. . .

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

We were fairly far along in discussions to publish Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid before I realized it was, purely by chance, on track to be our 13th title.  Of all people, I thought, surely Stephen King wouldn’t mind occupying the #13 slot, but. . .it seemed worth investigating.  So I checked with the man himself.  Any concerns?  Actually. . .yes, some.  But when I offered to renumber the book #14 if he’d prefer—like the 13th floor in an office building—Steve declined the offer. “I don't want you to skip me to #14,” he wrote, “because 13 always knows. . .”

In addition to Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai also founded the Internet service Juno and was one of the creators of the SyFy TV series Haven. In his spare time he wrestles alligators.


  1. Megan Frampton

    I started reading noir with Jim Thompson, and then just began buying all the books I could find published by Black Lizard Press. I love it when imprints are just as important as the authors, like yours is. Plus the covers are cool.

  2. Patti Abbott

    I have given this book as a gift twice now and both giftees loved it. I have to buy a copy for myself once more.

  3. Matthew Keeley

    My uncle gave me his set of The Inquisitor’s six-book run. I’ve only read the first so far, but I thought it was pretty good – fast-paced, surprising, and dryly funny. Interestingly enough, The Devil in Kansas features a winter chase through Gorky Park!

  4. Gigi

    but did cruz smith write all the inquisitor novels? or was he only contracted to do 1 + x?

  5. Charles Ardai

    Smith wrote all the Inquisitor novels. They’re not all great, but they all have great moments, and the two best are really quite good.

  6. Craig Pittman

    These are great tales, and the one about Alan Furst in particular made me laugh out loud. Thanks for posting them. (And now I shall go spelunking for copies of these out-of-print books in the usual venues…)

  7. Lloyd Cooke

    I don’t why Mr. Ardai doesn’t know what pulp is when right at the top he calls what he is trying to do is “revive the style of the great old paperback crime novels of the 1940s and 50s.”
    Those were not pulp!

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