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Seven Slayers by Paul Cain

Seven Slayers

by Paul Cain

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753249,858 (3.38)None
Seven brutally ingenius tales of murder passionate and cold-blooded, written by a poet of the hard-boiled. There's Black, a stranger in town, who gets drafted into a gang war just because he had the bad luck to trip over a corpse on his way from the station.  There's the glamorous Bella, whose boyfriends have the distressing habit of stabbing one another while she naps in the next room.  And of course there's Johnny Doolin, who hires himself out as a bodyguard--only to find that his client has no interest in staying alive. The men and women inSeven Slayersare exactly what the title promises:  people who kill for love or money or for the sheer, perverse joy of homicide.  And this riveting collection is one of the few surviving books by Paul Cain (aka Peter Ruric, aka George Sims), a hard-drinking, enigmatic writer of the 1930s who had as many pseudonyms as he had wives and of whom Raymond Chandler wrote that he had reached in his fiction "a high point in the hard-boiled manner."… (more)



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Today Paul Cain is remembered for his lone novel Fast One, which--more than a decade after its publication--served as a model for the burgeoning subgenre of noir (and for which Raymond Chandler expressed a cockeyed admiration). It was a monochromatic book, filled with characters whose almost doltish insistence on getting themselves killed made it impossible for me to take seriously, but Fast One was not entirely representative of Cain's work. It sounds good to be dubbed "ultra-hardboiled" or "the hardest of the hardboiled," but at bottom that's a puerile distinction...and, as far as Cain is concerned, an imprecise one. In these stories he happily made use of all the stereotypical variants of the '30s pulp detective, from the independently wealthy eccentric who solves crimes as a lark to the screwy reporter who works hand in hand with the PI or the cops. In this way, Cain bore a much closer resemblance to his peers than all the breathlessly smitten reviewers of his novel would have you believe.

The stories vary in quality: a bleak vignette called "Parlor Trick" is reminiscent of Fast One, while "Murder in Blue" (the tale of an amiable Hollywood stuntman turned detective/bodyguard/con artist who gets in way over his head) is enlivened by touches of whimsy and even human warmth. My favorite is "One, Two, Three," a fun murder caper in which Cain managed to find humor in one of his recurring themes, that of the beautiful but treacherous woman. Seven Slayers doesn't include his best story, "Trouble Chaser," but you can find that one in Pronzini & Adrian's Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories.

Like everyone who followed in the footsteps of Dashiell Hammett (until Raymond Chandler, whose psychologically mature writing initiated a sea change in the genre), Paul Cain was trying to outdo Hammett's slick and seemingly effortless minimalism. He didn't succeed--he wasn't a good enough writer for that--but he had his moments. ( )
  Jonathan_M | Jun 10, 2017 |
The characterization is thin in all but a couple of these stories. Actually, those are pretty thin too, but at least there is enough description that you can keep the characters straight as you read. Cain excels at short, terse descriptions, mood setting, and, to a lesser extent, dialog. No surprise that he was a screenwriter writing under a pen name. Reading most of these stories is like being dropped into a dense fog somewhere and having no idea where you are. These don't make great late night reading because you need to be awake to make sense of things. That said, most of these stories are worth reading, and one, "Pigeon Blood", would make a hell of a movie. Or maybe it already did.... ( )
1 vote datrappert | Nov 30, 2013 |
Paul Cain is one of the least known hard-boiled writers of the ‘30s. While Hammett, Chandler, and Burnett achieved great success in the pulps and Hollywood, Cain remained obscure though he produced memorable work in both fields.

The classic hard-boiled hero is a PI, someone who stands partway between the law and the Underworld (to use a phrase coined by Race Williams, the original hard-boiled hero). But a PI is nonetheless a product of the legit world, essentially a free-lance policeman. Cain liked to bring his protagonists from the other side of the equation, he focussed on gangsters who acted like detectives. While the utter corruption of Poisonville in Red Harvest was an exception in Hammett’s writing, corruption is the basic norm of Cain’s stories. The cops and politicians are on the take from the crooks.

  DaveHardy | Aug 2, 2008 |
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