It is the standard advice for novice writers: write what you know. Long before he was a famous and successful writer, Harlan Ellison took this advice at the age of 20 and went undercover for 10 weeks in a Brooklyn street gang to find material to write about. Taking the name Phil “Cheech” Beldone, he put both himself and his family in danger when he quit the gang.
The result of that experience was his first novel, WEB OF THE CITY, now back in print as a Hard Case Crime work after a long absence. And while Ellison is best known as a science fiction writer, having won 10 Hugo Awards, he has also written mysteries and won two Edgar Allan Poe Awards for his crime fiction.
WEB OF THE CITY is a terrific book, written in almost a documentary style and is filled with the claustrophobic fear of the urban jungle. Ellison’s city is a place where there is no escape from poverty, hopelessness and violence. And interestingly, the book almost never made it into print. In an introduction, Ellison writes that he completed it while “undergoing the horrors of (Army) Ranger basic training” in 1957. He sold it to a paperback house, Lion Books, which then went out of business before releasing it, giving the young writer a good introduction to the perilous writing business. It would take another year for the book to come out with a new title the author did not choose, RUMBLE.
The title did not matter. Pulp readers in the 1950s witnessed the birth of a great writer. People often forget it now, but the pulps and cheap paperbacks in the 1950s and 1960s were the training grounds for many great writers, such as Ed McBain, Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. WEB OF THE CITY tells the story of Rusty Santoro, a 17-year-old tenement kid who has served as president for three years of a street gang called the Cougars. Rusty describes his life as “a sick thing, all caught up with brass knucks and swiped candy and fights in gutters.”
"WEB OF THE CITY is a terrific book, written in almost a documentary style and is filled with the claustrophobic fear of the urban jungle.... With Ellison’s brutal prose, WEB OF THE CITY is a true noir novel, a treat for the millions of Ellison fans."
Ellison, writing with