THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF BLACK MASK STORIES edited by Otto Penzler

Book Quote:

“I had been on a divorce case, shadowing a man most of the night before; so I didn’t do anything about the screaming telephone for the first few seconds except try to swim back down in the sticky molasses of sleep and wish whoever was calling would go away.” (from Her Dagger Before Me by Talmadge Powell)

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (DEC 17, 2010)

Clocking in at over 1100 pages, The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories is an impressive collection destined for the shelves of noir and crime fans. This is a companion volume to The Black Lizard Book of Pulps (and yes, I have a copy of that too). The 50 plus short stories, novellas and novels found in The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories have been “handpicked” from the archives of Black Mask Magazine. The magazine ran from 1920-1951, and as aficionados know, there are only two known complete collections of Black Mask magazine. Old or rare noir is pricey, so this collection is a must for all crime fans. Editor Otto Penzler writes the foreword, and Keith Alan Duetsch writes the introduction which includes an overview history of the magazine’s history. Each piece is preceded with a brief bio of the author along with the original publication date in Black Mask magazine. Original illustrations accompany the text.

There are so many names here, and so many wonderful stories, it’s impossible to mention them all. Many of the names are recognizable to fans of crime fiction–including Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon. But there’s something unique about this version; this is the complete Maltese Falcon. This is the “first time that the original magazine version has been published since its initial appearance eighty years ago.” Hammett’s novel was “dramatically revised after serialization with more than two thousand textual differences between the two versions.”

Other authors are less familiar, so for crime fans, this collection is a treasure trove of new names. The stories encompass a range of settings. “The Dancing Rats” by Richard Sale, for example, is set in Oahu after Pearl Harbor, and the tale concerns a doctor from the leper colony at Molokai who faces a deadly new enemy in the form of a mystery ailment that threatens the entire population. Another story, “Murder in the Ring” by Raoul Whitfield, is set in the boxing world, while “Knights of the Open Palm” by Carroll John Daly pits PI Race Williams against the KKK. The tale is told with a unique voice that instantly captured my interest:

“Race Williams, Private Investigator, that’s what the gilt letters spell across the door of my office. It don’t mean nothing, but the police have been looking me over so much lately that I really need a place to receive them. You see I don’t want them coming over to my home; not that I’m over particular, but a fellow must draw the line somewheres.”

For the aficionado, there are also numerous stories of historical significance–including Katherine Brocklebank’s “Bracelets.” In a time when female authors of noir and crime found it expedient to assume a male pseudonym, Brocklebank is the only positively identified female contributor “in the thirty-two-year history of Black Mask.” Her story is particularly unusual in that it depicts a female series character Tex of the Border Patrol. Also look for Peter Collinson (pseudonym of Dashiell Hammett), Erle Stanley Gardner’s “Come and Get It,” and Frederic Brown’s “Cry Silence.” For those interested in the film noir connection, many of the authors included in this collection also wrote novels made into film. Charles G Booth’s “One Shot” included in this gigantic collection, also wrote “The House on 42nd Street” and” Johnny Angel.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 15 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; Original edition (September 21, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Otto Penzler
EXTRAS: Noir Fiction is About Losers, not PIs
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December 17, 2010 · Judi Clark · Comments Closed
Tags:  · Posted in: Classic, Mystery/Suspense, Noir, Short Stories