One of the first books I picked up when I began exploring the world of Crime Fiction was They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Written in 1935 by Horace McCoy, it was a short book that I found on someone's "Best of List" at Amazon.com. I had no real idea what the story was about, it just seemed like an interesting title, but it was written in the early period of the genre and I wanted to start there.
More of a novella than novel, the story begins with the main character, Robert, standing trial for murdering a woman named Gloria. Each chapter begins with a snippet of Robert's trial and finishes by explaining the path that brought him there. Robert and Gloria were two wannabe actors trying to make it big in Hollywood during the Great Depression. Robert is fresh faced and determined, while Gloria has been run through the grinder and tires of the rat race. (Gloria is not some you take home to mom.) after a random meeting on the street they become hesitant friends and decide to enter a couples only Dance Marathon to earn some cash. A Dance Marathon is exactly what is says apparently; couples must dance, (or be in some sort of motion,) 24 hours per day with only a 10 minute break every two hours.The fact that these Dance Marathons were real and the misery the contestants go through just to make a buck was the most horrifying part of the story. Crowds came to watch these things which make it seem like the first real seeds of reality TV.
At the time I had never read anything quite like it. Thinking back now, and having a broader base to compare to, I would say it is in the same vein as James M. Cain's work, meaning it's completely dark and brutal. If you are looking for an old school, black as night noir, pick this up and enjoy. It's definitely a classic that should be mentioned up there with the greats.
(This story was turned into a Sydney Pollack film bearing the same name starring Jane Fonda as Gloria. I've never seen the film but judging from the trailer below it sure seems to capture the tone.)