I may have mentioned before that I have the best husband in the world. Part of the reason he is so great is that he can spot just the thing I would love to read. A case in point: Pulp Fiction: The Dames, edited by Otto Penzler with an introduction by Laura Lippman (2008). This book features 22 stories and one set of comics that were published in detective and mystery "pulps" of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. That would be pretty great in and of itself, but what brings this collection together is that each story features a woman -- sometimes as a simpering sap, sometimes as a hard-as-nails thief, and more often than not as a smart and sexy gal who uses her looks and her brains to either solve the case or get away with the loot.
There are a few well-known names in the collection (Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich), but most of the authors are either forgotten bestsellers of the past or untraceable hacks who wrote under a pseudonym. Penzler's introductions are wonderful -- providing just enough context about the author and the original publisher, without going overboard -- and they serve as a solid introduction to the world of pulpy publishing. The quality of the stories varies, but they are representative of a genre that included both the literary Hammett and the low-rent Spicy Detective.
While this is not a feminist collection by any means, there are a lot of spunky gals that can hold their own in the man's world of gangsters, police, journalists, and private eyes -- even if they do wear extremely tight dresses and bat their eyes a few times while doing so.
This is a really great collection -- highly recommended if you like mysteries, gangsters, or pulpy action and adventure.