True Crime Detective Magazines 1924-1969 by Eric Godtland, edited by Dian Hansen (Taschen, 2008)
A a long time lover of True Detective magazine and its many imitators (and one of the few to notice its passing), I've been waiting for years for an even half-assed history of the genre. And, with the publication of True Crime Detective Magazines, I'm still waiting.
Not that there isn't a whole lot to love about this lavish volume. For Taschen books, pictures are the thing. And there is no shortage of eye candy here. The book is loaded with some 400+ drool worthy reproductions of detective magazine covers. It begs for coffee table display.
The text, however, is another matter. Granted, the image-heavy format and Taschen's policy of printing the text in English, French, and German doesn't give the writers much to work with. But even allowing for these tight constraints, the "history" presented herein is sketchy, scatter shot, and from what I can tell, frequently inaccurate. The authors seem to have been so distracted by the chapters on bondage covers and "girls smoking" covers (??) they appear to have spent little time actually reading the damn things. As painful an experience as this may be, sometimes a writer's gotta take one for his audience.
An even bigger gripe is 1969 cut-off. Why, my god, why? This is when things were getting really interesting ironically. The wave of sleaze they describe as engulfing the magazines in the 1960s didn't really hit until the 1970s. During the disco decade, every cover was a tasteless tableau of a woman about to come to a painful, violent, and frequently sexually sadistic end. Blurbs promised to reveal the truth about the "Mutilation Murder of Palm Beach's Millionaire Homo" of "When You're Done, Stack Her With the Others." They were truly documents of a nation seemingly going insane.
Luckily, there is something more than pretty pictures. Almost as an afterthought, they include "I Was a True Detective Editor" by Marc Gerald, wherein Mr. Gerald describes his memorable first job out of college in 1989. This article about the almost-final days of the crime magazines is worth the price of admission alone.
It's sad that even Canada's really crappy crime magazines have gotten a real book (True Crime, True North) while the land that invented the damn things (all praise St. Bernarr MacFadden!) has to make do with this. But it does look so nice on my coffee table....