No American art form has ever managed to capture the enduring appeal of the profoundly sordid as neatly as pulp fiction. From the propulsive storylines to the laconic prose to the striking cover art that has, for decades, routinely adorned pulp paperbacks, the genre is edgy pop culture at its most elemental: sex and violence with a side of wry.
Today, one publisher in the U.S. keeps the hard-boiled paperback tradition alive: since 2004, Hard Case Crime has published scores of titles — some of them brand new, others classics of the genre lovingly reprinted for a new audience — each one featuring a cover that, like the tale inside, grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Here, in partnership with Hard Case, LIFE.com presents a celebration of American pulp fiction, and the gorgeous, lurid cover art that has forever been its visual trademark.
In Praise of Pulp Fiction