Why I'm making Craig Rice part of my crime fiction diet
I don't know where Craig Rice (Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) stood in the public mind when she made the cove of time in January 1946, but my first reading of a solo Rice story suggests that not only did she belong on Time's cover then, but she belongs on the cover of reprints now (much of her work appears to be out of print). Working with raw ingredients well established in the crime canon, she managed to fashion work that feels like nothing else in crime writing until then or since.
The story in question, "I'm A Stranger Here Myself," first appeared in Manhunt in February 1954, has Rice's impecunious lawyer protagonist, John J. Malone, moving like a dream through as unlikely a mix of humor, snappy dialogue, and dread as anything I've read in crime fiction. I cannot remember the last time before this story that I'd read a crime story that made me think, "By God, I have read nothing like this before."
I don't quite know why, but I find dialogue such as this absolutely beguiling:
"`That Malone, he thinks good,' Joe the Angel said proudly, delivering the rye.
"`Go away," Malone said dreamily."What's so special about that exchange? The bartender's humorous nickname and diction? The unexpected proudly? And what about dreamily, not the sort of word one normally associated with hard-boiled crime protagonists? For me the word worked like a bang-up ending to a miniature short story, like a pail of ice water to the face, leaving me alert and needing to know what happens next.
And now I'm off for dinner with a side dish of Rice. While I sip sherry at the local press club, I leave you with this question: What was the last crime novel or story you read that made you feel you were in the company of something utterly new?
© Peter Rozovsky 2014