Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The mean streets of pulp Reykjavik
One of the enjoyable aspects of the pulp era is how global many of its basic elements and tropes were. We tend to think of the worldwide penetration of our culture as being a modern phenomenon, but it was a feature of the pulp era. (You can blame colonialization for that). Zeppelins were a common sight in Indonesia during the pulp era. Hardbitten ship radio operators were as common in Chile and Peru as in the Yellow Sea. England had its mad scientists; so, too, did French West Africa, though that's a post for another day. The craze for celebrities and especially movie stars was as heated in Rumania and Poland and Brazil as it was in the U.S.
And, of course, there were private detectives. The larger agencies, especially the Pinkertons, dominated the field, but there were always independent operators, and they could be found everywhere: Iceland, as you can see; Dakar; even (as I'll post here some time soon) in Tokyo in the 1920s.
Presumably their jobs were much the same as American detectives'--the same tawdry divorce cases enlightened by more unusual situations. But there's something much more interesting about a p.i. in 1919 Reykjavik than 1919 New York, don't you think?