Classic pulp stories are often decried for their simplicity and dependence upon erotic elements to move copies. The criticism overlooks one of the primary functions of pulp stories: They were written to entertain.
And my god, they did that in spades.
At their peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, the most successful pulps could sell up to one million copies per issue. In 1934, Frank Gruber (writer) said there were some 150 pulp titles.*
Because they were successful at entertaining, many stories and writers who started in the pulps went on to become “classic” novels and authors.
The authors who “broke out” did so across the fiction genres, but I will stick to detective/adventure/thrillers:
Dashiell Hammett — The Thin Man
Dashiell Hammett started in the pulps and never really left them–his stories were pure hardboiled entertainment that was packaged as novels that sold as well as the pulps.
Raymond Chandler — The Long Goodbye
No list of pulp-to-mainstream could be complete without Chandler in it.
Patricia Highsmith — Strangers On A Train
This one tends to raise brows. Not many people realize the novel is pure pulp–sexy, scandalous and pure entertainment.
Elmore Leonard — all his work
Elmore Leonard is one of the more contemporary authors who have made entertaining via fiction their primary goal and succeeded brilliantly.
The dialogue between his characters is enough to keep you reading, but then he throws in violence, sex and plot twists worthy of pretzels.
Michael Crichton writing as John Lange
There’s not a lot of readers who realize that Jurassic Park creator Michael Crichton got his start writing pulp novels.
It shows in his later novels, though. He mastered the gripping plot well.
Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark — The Hunter
Originally published under The Hunter, Westlake admits that it was written purely for money for the month. Yet the movie rights were picked up, the story retitled as Point Blank, and the resulting movie is considered classic cinema.