The Hard-Boiled Omnibus
Edited by Joseph T. Shaw
Review by Ed
There's no doubt that The Hard-Boiled Omnibus, published by Simon
and Schuster in hardcover in 1946, is a landmark anthology. After all, the collection
of 15 stories originally published by Black Mask was put together by the Old
Man himself, Joseph T. Shaw.
But there's two different editions of this book; when the softcover came
out in 1952, it knocked out stories and juggled the running order of the survivors.
Does this hurt or enhance the reading experience?
It depends on what you're looking for. If you're the type who reads through
straight, the softcover version has a better running order, but it's missing two good
stories that were in the hardcover.
The cover of the Pocket Book edition (25 cents!) promises "12 of
the toughest murder stories ever written," but two of these stories don't include
any killings. There's also another inaccuracy. The book claims to have "every
word contained in the original, higher-priced edition," but three pieces from
the original edition were deep-sixed: "The Devil Suit," by J.J. Des
Ormeaux (Forrest Rosaire); "Murder Mixup," by George Harmon Coxe;
and "Sister Act," by Charles G. Booth.
"The Devil Suit" was the leadoff story in the hardcover
edition. Although it drags a bit, it shouldn't have been dropped altogether. The
plot was interesting enough to hold a reader for the 50-odd pages it ran, but maybe
for the very first story. "Sister Act" was also a good story featuring two
pairs of sisters and breaks away from the typical blazing-guns formula.
I agree with the cut of "Murder Mixup," a story featuring
Coxe's series character Flash Casey. The exaggerated tough-guy antics of Casey haven't
The softcover leads off with Lester Dent's mighty fine "Sail," featuring
the vertically-unchallenged detective Oscar Sail. Deftly written, there's an atmosphere
of corruption and menace sure to hook readers in right from the start. This story had
been in the middle of the book and it plays better being up front.
Next is Reuben Jennings Shay's "Taking His Time," an
amusing short-short (five pages) about a flim-flam in a small town. It fits in fine
as the second story, where it was in the original. There's a complete absence of violence
in this piece, and yet there's no mistaking that it is hard-boiled. It'll crack up
any Black Mask fan.
Batting third is the first of two stories by Shaw favorite Raoul Whitfield, "Death
in the Pasig," a Joe Gar short written under his Ramon Decolta pen name.
Readers can feel the hot and humid Manila air as Gar slowly but surely makes his
way to fingering the killer.
Then there's Raymond Chandler's "The Man Who Liked Dogs." Supposedly
the story appeared in the collection without Chandler's consent, but the book notes
the story was reprinted "by permission of the author," as the original did.
Whatever the circumstances, this is great writing and great reading.
Dtto for Dashiell Hammett's "Fly Paper," which follows
Chandler like the second half of a one-two punch.
Whitfield's second story "Inside Job" is a letdown,
and not only because it follows Hammett and Chandler. The killer and the method are
just too obvious, even before the murder is committed. This story should have been
cut instead of "Sister Act," which would have fit well here.
Norbert Davis's "Red Goose" rights the ship again with
a well-mixed assortment of personalities in an art-world theft. It's funny in a way
that only Davis could have done, along with his killer ear for dialog.
Another story from the immortal Paul Cain, "Red 71," raises
the bar higher. This story of double-crossing, savage brutality and a tender marriage
proposal is already well-known by readers of Cain's "Seven Slayers" collection.
The last four stories in the collection remain unchanged in order from
the original. Three of them in a row zip by: "Best Man," by Thomas
Walsh; "Kick-Back," by Ed Lybeck; and "Clean Sweep," by
Roger Torrey. There's nothing too distinctive here, but they're not lousy. Time hasn't
been kind to stories that stuck too close to "run and gun" formulas, which
these three slip into at their worst.
The last story shows the sentimental side of Shaw. "South Wind," by
Theodore Tinsley, doesn't get more violent than a broken arm. What drives the story
is the interplay between the two leading columnists for the newspaper, not unlike Spencer
Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. In fact, the man's name is Tracy.
"Hey hardboiled," calls the woman before a train whisks her
away, "any time you get sick of this crooked game, come on down to Thunder Run.
I'd be awful glad to see you."
"South Wind" is a wistful ending to a great anthology,
in either version.
The Hard-Boiled Omnibus
Edited by Joseph T. Shaw
Review edition published by Pocket Book, 1952