Sunday, May 29, 2011

50 Great Gold Medal Titles

Find a Gold Medal paperback. Look at the title. Chances are, you’ll probably want to read it. Doesn’t matter if you’re familiar with the author’s work, or even if you like them. Heck, even if you hated the last book you read by the author, one look at another title and you might think to give him or her a second chance.

Earlier in the spring, Eric Beetner published a terrific essay at the Mulholland Books blog called “Talking Titles” in which he discussed the history of noir titles, from Mickey Spillane to Jason Starr to his own novel, One Too Many Blows to the Head, co-authored with J.B. Kohl.

Beetner’s essay got me to thinking about my favorite titles. A lot of them—but not all—come from Gold Medal paperbacks. I didn’t merely want to repeat what Beetner did so well in his essay, so I decided to put my own spin on it. I went through all the Gold Medal titles listed at BookScans and picked out my 50 favorites. I won’t claim they are the best titles (I’m sure I missed some gems), nor will I claim that these are the best novels. I haven’t read most of them, so I have no idea if they are any good. Some are classics (Down There by David Goodis, Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson), some are forgotten gems by celebrated authors (Some Must Die by Gil Brewer), and some I had never heard of before. All the titles are arranged alphabetically by author.

So, without further ado, here are Pulp Serenade’s selection of 50 Great Gold Medal Titles. If you have favorites of your own, be sure to mention them in the comments section.

Meanwhile Back at the Morgue by Mike Avallone
Not I, Said the Vixen by Bill S. Ballinger
Seven Votes for Death by Pat Bannister
Satan Is a Woman by Gil Brewer
Some Must Die by Gil Brewer
Hell’s Our Destination by Gil Brewer
Lovely and Lethal by Frank Castle
Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze
The Lady’s Not For Living by Dexter St. Clair
The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby
Make My Coffin Strong by William R. Cox
Case of the Nervous Nude by Jonathan Craig
I Came To Kill by Gordon Davis
The Lady Kills by Bruno Fischer
Second-Hand Nude by Bruno Fischer
Death and the Naked Lady by John Flagg
Down There by David Goodis
The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis
The Wounded and the Slain by David Goodis
Assassins Have Starry Eyes by Donald Hamilton
Jezebel in Crinoline by Homer Hatten
Horsemen From Hell by Homer Hatten
So I’m a Heel by Mike Heller
Red Runs the River by William Heuman
To Kiss, or Kill by Day Keene
Come Murder Me by James Kieran
Cry Hard, Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald
The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything by John D. MacDonald
One Monday We Killed Them All by John D. MacDonald
It’s Your Money—Come and Get It by Sidney Margolius
The Name of the Game Is Death by Dan J. Marlowe
The Raven is a Blood Red Bird by Dan J. Marlowe and William Odell
Killers are My Meat by Stephen Marlowe
Homicide Hussy by Atha McGuire
I’ll See You In Hell by John McPartland
Come Destroy Me by Vin Packer
The Evil That Men Do by Hugh Pentecost
Everybody Had a Gun by Richard S. Prather
Strip For Murder by Richard S. Prather
Dig My Grave Deep by Peter Rabe
It’s My Funeral by Peter Rabe
Kill The Boss Good-by by Peter Rabe
Murder Me for Nickels by Peter Rabe
Let Them Eat Bullets by Howard Schoenfeld
Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
Death Takes the Bus by Lionel White
Lament For a Virgin by Lionel White
Fires That Destroy by Harry Whittington
Don’t Speak to Strange Girls by Harry Whittington
Hill Girl by Charles Williams

A few words on the selections:

Some of the titles are simply salacious (Second-Hand Nude by Bruno Fischer), which is often enough. Others are deeply nihilistic (Hell’s Our Destination by Gil Brewer, or Dig My Grave Deep by Peter Rabe). There’s also a sense of humor in some of them (Strip for Murder by Richard S. Prather, Meanwhile Back at the Morgue by Mike Avallone). Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has by Angel and Goodis’ The Moon in the Gutter have a poetic ring to them, while Day Keene’s To Kiss, or Kill almost seems like a pulpy evocation of Hamlet’s dilemma. There’s something melodic about Donald Hamilton’s Assassins Have Starry Eyes and Homer Hatten’s Jezebel in Crinoline, they roll nicely off the tongue and there’s an element of wordplay that is subtler than, say, Death and the Naked Lady by John Flagg. Harry Whittington even seems to be looking out for us readers, offering us the sage wisdom, Don't Speak to Strange Girls. (How many of Whittington's own protagonists could have been spared, had they heeded the author's advice?)

Many of the titles are blunt, but few are as economical as Hill Girl by Charles Williams. 8 letters and it tells you exactly what you want to know. Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson is, at first, strange, because there’s nothing sexy or alluring about that number—but there’s an inherent desolation that lures one in. Stephen Marlowe takes a comic spin on the hardboiled sensibility with Killers Are My Meat, and Lionel White’s Death Takes the Bus harkens back to the pulp days of yesteryear (I can almost imagine Fredric Brown using a title like that, but I doubt that White’s novel is anything close to Brown). Sidney Margolius’ It’s Your Money—Come and Get It, Vin Packer’s Come Destroy Me, and Peter Rabe’s Murder Me for Nickels outright provoke the reader, taunting them and making them implicit in the crimes contained within the pages.(Rabe’s also makes me wonder why he has such low self-esteem, why not Murder Me for Quarters, at least?). And is there anything more violently chilling than One Monday We Killed Them All by John D. MacDonald?

Titles are tricky business. The best of them not only draw our eyes to the book, but also capture our imagination in their own way.


  1. Nice list. I have all the crime novels on it, but not all the westerns and historicals.

  2. Read only one THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH by Marlowe. I will never catch up. No, two. The John McDonald one.

  3. My favorite Gold Medal title, hands down, is Fletcher Flora's PARK AVENUE TRAMP, with a special shout-out to Bruno Fischer's THE LUSTFUL APE. I also have a great respect for Goodis's THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN, as well as his tersely masterful NIGHT SQUAD, which sums up in two quick words all I want from a certain kind of novel -- as does Allen O'Quinn's SWAMP BRAT. I also admire the left-right punches contained in Ann Aldrich's WE, TOO, MUST LOVE, followed by WE TWO WON'T LAST; a novel contained within two titles, as it were.

  4. Regarding Peter Rabe's "Murder Me for Nickels", if my poor memory serves, the story revolved around a mobster who ran a juke box racket (if that makes sense) and the juke boxes only took nickels. Maybe somebody who read the book more recently than I can chime in to say whether or not I am correct.

  5. All very fine, but I am compelled to add...

    Nice Guys Finish Dead by Albert Conroy
    No Chance in Hell by Nick Quarry
    Till It Hurts by Nick Quarry
    Kiss Off the Dead by Garrity
    Hell Bent for Danger by Walt Grove
    The Beautiful and Dead by Ross MacRoss
    Trouble is My Name by Stephen Marlowe (my favorite of all his Chester Drum titles-- could only be improved if it were his middle name...)
    Devil May Care by Wade Miller
    Kitten with a Whip by Wade Miller
    The Girl from Midnight by Wade Miller
    The Out is Death by Peter Rabe

    I know there's more but why even try to list them all. Your comment about how a Gold Medal's title can get you psyched up to read a book by any author whose last work did absolutely nothing for you is 100% true in my case.
    Great post.

    John Hocking

  6. John -- Great additions! "Hell Bent For Danger" is one of my favorite Gold Medals novels, and further proof that 50 isn't enough to collect all the good titles.

    Brian -- Ah, that explains it. I was sure Rabe would make the title make sense somehow, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

    Richard -- Those are all great, too. Perhaps I should have made this list 100 instead of 50...

    Patti -- I still need to read that Marlowe, it's been on my list for a while.

    Bill -- I'm surprised! If I had to choose between access to your book collection and the New York Public Library, I'd have to think long and hard...

  7. It has been well over 25 years since I read "Murder Me For Nickels" by Peter Rabe. Brian's memory of the plot is entirely accurate. Having an interest in both vintage paperbacks AND collecting vinyl records most frequently played on juke boxes made this a must for me. It was (and is) on the top of the heap for me.
    I also very much enjoyed the 2 Curt Canon (Ed McBain) books as well: I Like 'Em Tough (# 743) & I'm Canon for Hire. "The Snatchers" by Lionel White is also another "doozy". Alas, I could go on all day and I have only read about 30 of the GM's. So many little time :). I don't know how you managed to whittle down the list of Gold Medals to only 50.

  8. As I've said before, going through all of them I realized that 50 has hardly enough, since there were so many wonderful titles. I just picked some of my favorites and had to put a limit. I prefaced the list by saying that this was by no means a definitive or "best of" list -- just some that appealed to my eye. Purely subjective.

  9. Thanks for the great list. I ordered a couple....

  10. Just popped over to check this out because it sounded interesting and saw my name up there. Glad I inspired this inspiring list. Like everyone else, so many to add to the old "gotta find it" list. I can't seem to find a copy of Black Wings Has My Angel that isn't wicked expensive. Can't find a good gold Medal copy of Name of the Game is Death either, only the Black Lizard reissue. (can it be as good as everyone says?)
    Let Them Eat Bullets and Murder Me For Nickles sound particularly interesting.
    I've been having good luck with old pulps I've bought solely on title and artwork and a good tip.
    Prepare to face my at the eBay auctions! I shall defeat you!

    p.s. And once again Bill Crider confirms my theory that he has read everything ever written.

  11. Currently reading Robert Colby's "The Deadly Desire", having just polished off Harry Whittington's "Web of Murder" - I do love my Gold Medal's. "River Girl" by Charles Williams has to be my favourite, so far, but I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Just picked up some titles by Philip Atlee, A.S. Fleischman and Day Keene - hope to get to them soon - so little time!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails