#78: Book Porn, Vol. 3: The Man in Blue

October 26th, 2012

It was the guy at Quimby’s who told the man in blue where he could get the stuff.

The portly bike messenger-type smiled and wrote down a number and address when the man in blue came skulking around, twisting ears and playing hush-hush in the corner asking about the stuff.

“They’ll have what you’re looking for,” the bike messenger-type said with a curlicue smile.

The man nodded and took the sheet.

A few days later, the man in blue opened the door of Powell’s Lakeview location, the end result of the address on the sheet. He walked up to the counter to talk to two slim men who were either high or 22 years old — the man in blue always had trouble telling those apart.

He asked. A nod and a follow-me later took the man in blue to the back room, where one of the high-or-22 mopes gestured at the merchandise.

“This is where it would be,” he said before taking off to be slim and vaguely stoned up at the front counter again.

It. The stuff. The real deal. None of your namby-pamby cop procedurals. Not your cozy-coze murders where crime’s greatest nemesis is a crazy aunt with a cat. Not even the tights and cape set where angry orphans split their time between punching muggers and flying to Neptune.

No, the man in blue was looking for two-fisted crime adventures that scatter bullets and exclamation points with equal disregard. He wanted dames who couldn’t be trusted. Bronze giants and slouch-hatted mystery men. He wanted steamy jungles, alleyway shootouts, aerial Fokker battles.

He wanted Doc Savage, Secret Agent X, The Shadow, The Spider (Master of Men). He wanted prose as purple and flowery as a lavender plant, but less likely to put you to sleep.

The man in blue wanted pulps.

Although real pulps are harder to come by than a dame who doesn’t have murder on her mind, even reprints could be the order of the day for The Man in Blue (who was, in reality, Paul Dailing, impoverished young man-about-town).

Pulps are tawdry. They often don’t make much sense. But when the bullets start flying and the heroes start heroing, none of that matters. You get pulled into tales of derring-do.

You laugh when Monk gets Ham a good one, feel a chill up your spine at the words “Burbank speaking.” You look past the overblown writing and nil character development. You start to wonder how Doc, Lamont, or ol’ Rich Wentworth are going to get out of this one.

The pulps occupy a weird moment where pop culture heroes get powers. The Shadow (1930) had his ill-defined suite of mysteriousness. Doc Savage (1933) had the preternatural strength, size and brains that put him beyond the rest of men.

The purely human Scarlet Pimpernels (1905), Tarzans (1912) and Zorros (1919) were fading from the scene. The pulps of the 1930s were the birthplace of powers, literally the link between man and Superman (1938).

But for now, they were a missing link, the man in blue thought. The store had a nice selection of books, but no pulps. They didn’t have the stuff.

The man in blue made a low, mellow, trilling sound. The shuddering whisper of a mocking laugh crept through the room. He had been foiled in his search, but the quest went on as it always did… for The Man in Blue.

Comment on this story

Read Book Porn, Vol. 1: The Receipt

Read Book Porn, Vol. 2: The Monk

What's this?

You are currently reading #78: Book Porn, Vol. 3: The Man in Blue by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.