Have you ever read any of the works by Frank L. Packard? He is best known for his detective stories such as The White Moll, or his series about the gentleman thief/detective, Jimmie Dale. They were written in the early 1900s and took place in New York City. Serious students of the detective genre see Packard’s works as an important stepping stone between the very proper Victorian era detective novels of the late 1800s and the tougher, grittier detectives of the hard-boiled school of the 1930s and 1940s. Packard painted a New York that was filthy, derelict and immoral. Dope addicts, thieves and killers populated it. Packard took his readers into broken-down tenements, back alleys and evil-smelling dens of New York as his detective tried to right society’s wrongs through a little larceny. The larcenous means gallantly justified the happy ending. What does all this have to do with a Race Williams story? Everything. The Snarl of the Beast was published in Black Mask in 1927 as a serialized novel. It features Daly’s inveterate tough guy detective, Race Williams, spitting death from his guns while trying to do the right thing for his client. His means to achieve his ends are messy and violent, but in Race William’s philosophy it will be justice that triumphs in the end.
However, the writing style of The Snarl of the Beast comes through as an older writing style. If you took out Frank L. Packard’s suave Jimmie Dale and replaced him with Race Williams you would have a New York setting and writing style very comparable to each other. It is akin to reading a novel of the late 1880s with a 1930s tough guy thrown in to the mix. The action sequences are fast-paced and explosive. The rest of the story, however, reads in a rather dated style. It is not one of Daly’s best works. Yet it does have elements of the coming hard-boiled tradition that would come full force into detective fiction in the 1930s and 1940s. Be it Frank L. Packard’s gentleman detective or Carrol John Daly’s hard-boiled private eye, be assured that the good guy will win in the end.
The name Dan J. Marlowe won’t (or at least, shouldn’t) be unfamiliar to noir fiction enthusiasts. Marlowe’s hard-hitting 1962 classic The Name of the Game is Death is far from his only gripping, edgy crime novel, but it’s his best, and is a landmark title within the genre. Even Stephen King has gone on record to praise that book.
What’s less familiar, even in noir circles, is about the no less gripping story of Marlowe’s life. But now that’s been taken care of, thanks to Charles Kelly’s new biography, Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe. Kelly is a tireless researcher and a crack hand at writing—not surprising for a longtime newspaper reporter and novelist in his own right. His painstaking biographical work reveals a most complicated and contradictory man: a “nice guy” whom people generally liked, yet whom many felt they could never quite trust; a conservative businessman fascinated by the criminal milieu; a chameleon equally comfortable among decorated military officers and career cons; an avid reader who was an anti-intellectual; a soft-spoken guy who wrote convincingly about the hardest of the hardboiled; a well-mannered gentleman who had a spanking fetish.
Asked what it was about Marlowe that made him want to tell his life story, Kelly explains:
To me, Dan Marlowe was a fine hardboiled writer whose work dropped from sight through no fault of his own. The quality of his best books qualifies him for a special place in the hardboiled canon, as Stephen King’s admiration of his writing attests. But, beyond that, I considered him a wonderful subject for a biography because his life mirrored his art. Noir themes abound in his life: amnesia, his taste for gambling, his friendship with a bank robber, the sexual inclinations that he hid from his closest friends, his use of false identities to market his pornographic works. The personal lives of many writers are rather dull. Marlowe’s life certainly wasn’t.
Pulling from a voluminous array of sources, including Marlowe’s written correspondence with friends and publishing professionals, his newspaper columns and magazine articles, and, of course, passages from his many novels, Kelly offers a vivid depiction of Marlowe the writer, while at the same time giving us our first tantalizing glimpse of the man behind the books. He also provides a balanced appraisal of Marlowe’s literary output.
One of the most interesting aspects of the biography is the information on Al Nussbaum, a bank robber-turned-writer, who was a personal friend and professional associate of Marlowe’s. Nussbaum comes off as a charismatic guy whose own life is so intriguing that you want Kelly to write a companion volume focusing squarely on him; as it stands, there is a fascinating mini-bio of Nussbaum contained in the pages of Gunshots. Kelly’s chronicle of Nussbaum’s life of crime reads like a thriller. Nussbaum, who at one time posed as a professional writer just so he could have a front to put up to his neighbors and acquaintances, later became a writing partner of Marlowe’s. He offered his friend key insights into the crook’s life, which allowed the author to portray that realm with greater credibility.
Kelly’s biography puts Marlowe in his deserved place, alongside Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, David Goodis, et al: an ace writer of noir fiction who struggled professionally and had his share of personal demons to contend with. You don’t have to be a noir fiction buff to get something from the book, but if you are, it’s a cinch that you’ll want to snatch up a copy.
A literary biography should do (at least these) three things: 1. Reveal aspects of the writer’s psyche; 2. Point to places where what the author lived and what he or she wrote intersected (if they did); 3. And, most importantly, leave the reader with a yen to plow through some of the author’s own books. Kelly’s biography of Marlowe is successful when judged by all three criteria, particularly the last—I kept having to put the book down to go online and search out used copies of some of the Marlowe titles I hadn’t yet read and that Kelly makes sound like must-haves.
I’ll close with some comments—and encouraging words—from Kelly on the experience of researching, writing, and publishing this book:
Doing a full-length biography requires a huge investment of time and effort. I was lured into this project early on when I came up with two ‘treasure troves’ of documents on Marlowe. Those were the personal papers preserved by Marlowe’s friend Gordon Gempel (including Marlowe’s medical and financial records), and the letters and documents accumulated by the writer’s friend James Batson. I turned up all that material in two months while working on an article about Marlowe for Noir Originals in 2007. At that point, I had so much information, there was no way I was not going to turn it into a biography. Also, there was no way I was going to allow it to go unpublished. A New York agent represented the book for several years, but wasn’t able to place it with a traditional publisher. At that point, I decided to self-publish, and I’m glad I did. The reaction from hardboiled fans and bloggers has been quite gratifying.
I envy first time readers of Dashiell Hammett’s work who discover The Adventures of the Continental Op through Crime Stories & Other Writings. Editor Steven Marcus presents twenty four of Hammett’s hard-edged short stories of crime and violence. Twenty of them feature a nameless operative of the San Francisco branch of the Continental Detective Agency. The stories are based on the experience of Hammett as an operative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which he joined in 1915, in Baltimore, Maryland; and ended his employment in 1921, in San Francisco. His first crime story “The Road Home,” would appear in the December 1922 issue of The Black Mask, a detective pulp.
Prior to Crime Stories & Other Writings, The Big Knockover, and Marcus’ 1974 collection from Random House, The Continental Op, were the only collections available to fans of the Op’s short fiction. The two books had sixteen of the Op’s adventures, but Marcus has included all of the stories from his earlier collection and left out only “Corkscrew” from The Big Knockover. As a Hammett fan and collector of Op stories for 20 years, only “Slippery Fingers” was new to me, but I purchased the book because I had to have that one Op story. And the other point was that all stories but one are taken from their pulp magazine appearances. Editor Steven Marcus has edited nothing… Good man!
The stories are reprinted in the order of their Black Mask appearances, which allows the reader to watch as Hammett’s skill as a writer develops from one story to the next. He reveals to us the talents necessary for the detective to master in order to become a hardened professional manhunter. We watch the Op as he listens, observes, and begins to manipulate events in order to get to the truth he’s been hired to uncover.
A special feature of this volume is also the reprinting of “From the Memoirs of a Private Detective,” from The Smart Set (March 1923). In this short feature, Hammett reveals some of the amusing incidents in his career as a manhunter, and gives a glimpse of the content of what makes his fiction unique.
Not counting the eight linked novelettes which make up his first two novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse, Hammett wrote 28 stories of the Op. (Although E.R. Hagemann in his A Comprehensive Index to Black Mask: 1920–1951, does not think “It” is one). The following list of eight Op stories, not in Crime Stories & Other Writings, will be in chronological order. Black Mask publication date will be followed by the name of the book publication of the story.
“It,” Black Mask (November 1923); Woman in the Dark (as “The Black Hat that Wasn’t There”), Lawrence Spivak, 1952
“Bodies Piled Up,” Black Mask (December 1, 1923); Dead Yellow Women, Nightmare Town, 1999
“One Hour,” Black Mask (March 1, 1924); The Return of the Continental Op, Nightmare Town, 1999
“Who Killed Bob Teal?,” True Detective (November 1924); Dead Yellow Women, Nightmare Town, 1999
“Mike, Alec, or Rufus,” Black Mask (January 1925); Creeping Siamese (as “Tom, Dick, or Harry”), Nightmare Town, 1999
“Corkscrew,” Black Mask (September 1925); Nightmare Town, 1948; The Big Knockover, 1966
“Death and Company,” Black Mask (November 1930); The Return of the Continental Op, Lawrence Spivak, 1945
Now, the sharp-eyed reader will notice two different publication dates on the Nightmare Town, 1948 and 1999. The 1948 date refers to a digest-sized magazine published by Lawrence Spivak as a “Bestseller Mystery”. It was also published as a Dell Mapback, #379 in 1950. In fact, all but one of the above listed titles had digest and paperback appearances.
Trying to collect all of Hammett’s short fiction, even in paperback, is no easy matter, since most of it is in hard-to-find and expensive to purchase Spivak digests or Dell Mapbacks. Adding to the difficulty is the same named books with slightly different contents. For instance, there are three paperbacks with the titles The Continental Op.
The best guide to this mass of paperback editions is Gary Lovisi’s Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler: A Checklist and Biography of their Paperback Appearances, Gryphon Press, 1994. Also valuable is “Collecting Mystery Fiction: Dashiell Hammett, Pgs. 156-163, The Armchair Detective, Vol. 17, #2, Spring 1984.
I began tracking Op stories in 1974 after I found an Ex-Libris copy of William F. Nolan’s first book on Hammett: Dashiell Hammett: A Casebook, 1969, McNally & Loftin, Pgs 132-145.
Two good articles on Hammett’s pulp fiction can be found in Robert Sampson’s volume 4 of Yesterday’s Faces: The Solvers Pgs 222-237; and Michael Chomko’s excellent fanzine“Purple Prose: issue #14 is devoted to detective fiction and “Hammett’s Ops”, by Michael Black is cover featured. A lot of interior art from Black Mask Hammett Stories is featured as well.
Crime Stories & Other Writings is well worth the price and should become a cornerstone volume in any reader’s library collection of Hammett short fiction.
As the boundaries between high and pop culture continue to blur, more academics are writing about pulp magazines, especially the detective genre. Much has been discussed regarding formal structure and subject matter, but Erin A. Smith, who teaches American Studies and Literature at the University of Texas at Dallas, broadens the study to include a sociological and historical context. Because Smith perceived a gap in the history of reading tastes among the less literate classes between the two world wars, she wanted to reconstruct a profile of hard-boiled fiction consumers. Specifically, she used Black Mask as case example, analyzing editorials, letters to the editor from writers and readers, the stories themselves, and advertisements to elucidate how the pulp magazine shaped its readers and vice versa.
In Part I, Smith discusses the status of hard-boiled writers, and by extension, all pulp writers in the literary marketplace. Her epigraphs from Vanity Fair (June, 1933) and Harper’s (June 1937) brought home the hostility slicks felt toward pulps; the former stated that pulp fans moved their lips when reading, and the latter asserted “they had tastes of savages.” Drawing heavily from Erle Stanley Gardner’s letters and Harold Hersey’s Pulpwood Editor. Smith gives us insights on how various writers worked the border between slicks and pulps, revealing it to be more porous than we might think. A dichotomy within detective fiction was introduced by presenting Raymond Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder, published in a 1944 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, where he defended hard-boiled, a mainly male genre, from its predecessor, the London Detection Club writers such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, and others who crafted more traditional mysteries. This contrast gives the reader a lesson on hard-boiled origins.
In another chapter, Smith dissects ad copy and deduces who the target audience was. Reproductions of ads by I.C.S.-International Correspondence Schools to Earle F. Liederman’s book Muscular Development, to Lee’s work clothes (“Do you look the deserving man you are?”), to Sherwin Cody School of English (“Do you make these mistakes in English?”) show us, Smith concludes, that targeted readers were working-class males, possibly immigrants, who wanted to defend their masculinity in the face of increasing workplace mechanization. The ads also appealed to desire advancement in economic and social status.
In Part II, the author correlates hard-boiled plots and themes with readers’ working lives. Her most ambitious claim is that plots reflected both writer and readers’ societal positions in that pulp authors saw their stories as piecework, not great art, and the fast-paced, intricate plots mirrored the assembly line atmosphers for worker/readers. Her strongest example consisted of contrasting the reading experience of two novels about murder on a stranded train, Frederick Nebel’s hard-boiled Sleepers East and Agatha Christies traditional Murder on the Orient Express. Nebel’s rapid plot loosely connects a chain of discrete, violent scenes without resolution, while Christie ties up all loose ends. Smith concludes that the hard-boiled hero, and readers who identified with him, was struggling to retain the autonomous artisanal work ethic in the face of scientifically managed mass production factories.
But how convincing is Smith’s project? She draws parallels and extrapolations without interviewing real people for confirmation. For instance, were the hypermasculine ads and stories really taken seriously by the average male reader?
By concentrating on Black Mask, her study comes across as too limiting. She ignored readers of other genres, such as middle-class teenaged boys who underlined juicy descriptions in Spicy Mystery, women fans of romance pulps, or highly educated science fiction pulp readers, or readers of Weird Tales, which included many women, if letters to the Eyrie were any indication. Furthermore, the advertising she analyzed appeared across the board in all kinds of pulps, not only in Black Mask, which should have been named in the book’s subtitle (and not pulps in general) since that was her only example. Incidentally, the unattributed cover image of the book was not reproduced from Black Mask but from the May 1941 Private Detective Stories.
Nevertheless, I recommend this title to pulp fans, especially Black Mask collectors, because Smith raises topics not usually found in books on pulps, and although written by an academic, it is very understandable, with informative extensive endnotes to each chapter.
Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers And Pulp Magazines
Erin A. Smith, Temple University Press.
2000 paperback, $19.95
Authored by Alfred Jan; reprinted from The Pulpster #11 (2001).
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 Hard-Boiled Omnibus (1952 paperback)
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 not 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 aged well.
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.
Ditto 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 Books, 1952
Having had a number of months away from reading anything by Chandler, and having read other pulp detective authors in the meantime, like Bellem, Daly, Davis and Browne, this novel really struck me a blow to the side of the head. This isn’t typical Chandler. All of the Chandler style is there, actually more so than usual, so much so that I was continually rereading passages just to absorb his eloquent prose style, 180 degrees opposite of the Bellem story I was reading the day prior.
Chandler, or Marlowe, really seems to be going through some sort of mid-life crisis here, so much so that is almost subverts the plot. Years of living in the same, constant, kind of world, has it taken its toll? Marlowe is investigating the murder of a friend(so it seems, yet all cursory evidence points to a suicide), and gets the usually round of dirty dealings by folks not wanting him to dig deeper. Coming away from this book, I have this odd feeling of depression. Is it just me or is this what Chandler was trying to potray, the futility and stuck-in-a-rut feeling that Marlowe, a man outside of his own world, seems to be living?
For me there is little point discussing the novel itself, it is easily acquired, and has been read by most serious detective readers already, so enjoy this one as something just a little unusual.
In the world of crime novels, it’s only a matter of time before an average Joe with an opportunity to make a few crooked bucks goes for it. After all, an engraver with a print shop can only make so many sales flyers (“Sheet blankets. Assorted cotton plaid, deep napped. Pink, blue, green. Regularly $1.49”) before he turns to counterfeiting bills.
“You’d never in a thousand years have guessed that he was a murderer and a criminal. You’d have thought him dull, plodding, honest,” Brown writes.
Emboldened by getting away with the murder of his philandering wife the year before, Darius Conn figures that printing up fake $10 bills will be a cakewalk, in Frederic Brown’s 1951 novel, His Name Was Death. And like every criminal, he figured wrong. But how straight a life can someone named “Conn” live?
Despite Conn’s careful planning, the fake bills end up in circulation prematurely, setting off a chain of murders as he hunts down and kills the unfortunate recipients of the bills.
The book, which jumps between Conn’s and his victims’ points of view, shows Brown’s mastery of internal dialog, which puts an individual face on the most mundane of lives. A man, just scraping by, envisions his upcoming marriage changing his drifting ways. A woman who gets stood up for a date is distressed that she went too early to a double feature to kill the entire afternoon. But how the criminal thinks is of prime importance, and Conn’s cockiness as he contemplates the next step for the “perfect criminal” is chilling.
Brown’s flashes of dark humor work well. When Conn mulls over murdering his assistant at the print shop, the thought of searching for someone as good a worker gives him genuine pause for thought.
His Name Was Death may not be “hard” enough for some hard-boiled fans, but its portrait of unflinching viciousness sheathed inside a mild-mannered printer will disturb any jaded readers. You may never look at Kinko’s the same way after reading it.
You’ve got to hand it to the people at Carroll & Graf. A few years after all the jerks who wanted to read pulp just because they saw Pulp Fiction have moved on to raising kids or something, the publisher continues to chunk out hard-boiled collections.
I’ve got some of their other collections, Pure Pulp and The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, but American Pulp is the only one that fits in my coat pocket. And I read it cover to cover.
The quality here is high, and each story is distinct and memorable enough so that you won’t need a bookmark, even after laying off for a few days between reads.
There’s several name writers here: John D. MacDonald, Donald E. Westlake, Evan Hunter, Mickey Spillane and Marcia Muller.
MacDonald turns in the standout of the collection, “In a Small Hotel.” A psychotic customer on the lam takes the proprietor and some of her friends hostage. When they overpower the customer, they turn on each other when find his stash of embezzled money. The lines of trust drawn and redrawn and strong characters loom in the reader’s mind for the rest of the book (it’s the third story in on this collection of 35).
In my mind, any book with another farcical romp by Norbert Davis alone is worth the price of admission. Davis’s “Murder in Two Parts” will satisfy fans of his slap-sticky murder stories.
There’s a lot of other things to like here: a gem of a story by Donald Wandrei, “Tick Tock” (like Davis’s story, originally published in Black Mask); a sharp western-mystery, “Lynching in Mixville,” by contemporary author L.J. Washburn; a typically awkward tale of insecurity from David Goodis, “The Plunge,” and a fine ironic ditty from Fredric Brown, “Cry Silence.”
But there’s also the lousy “Doing Colfax” from modern-day writer Ed Bryant. Ed Gorman says his writing is “innovative and stunning,” but the example here only portrays two low-lifes committing a murder with no remorse, and worse, little distinction. I might be missing something here, but I doubt it. I’m pretty sharp.
The collection also ends on a bum note with Richard Matheson’s “The Frigid Flame,” a 70-page relative opus on a murderous twist that readers will see through far too early on.
Gorman, Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg have done all the little things right, seamlessly integrating stories from the 70s through the 90s in with the pulp era. They even wrote short bios for all the authors. I’m a big fan of that.
At a little more than two cents a page, you can’t not buy and read this book.
Edited by Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg
550 pages, $12.95
Carroll & Graf, 1997
In this, one of the best films of 2001, Guy Pierce plays Leonard Shelby from San Francisco, a “detective” trying to solve his own case, who is being used for the dirty work of a friend. Regardless of his handicap, the lack of his ability to create new memories, he manages to get revenge. Or does he?
This film is very evocative of a typical Woolrich style story but is not the usual amnesia case. The film is told in reverse, with the climax being the first scene, as a result creating an odd sense of deja-vu while viewing. Throughout the film there is an interesting mix of black & white and color which further jumbles up the plotline. Black & white is used for flashbacks and pre-injury memories and further plot elements. One of the creepiest feelings the director manages to get across is the distorted sense of time.
Highest possible recommendation.
A I Remember/Newmarket Capital Group/Team Todd Production
Color/Black and white
Based on the short story “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jorja Fox, Harriet Sansom Harris, Callum Keith Rennie
Taken from the near the start of a more than 70 year professional writing career, Hugh B. Cave’s Long Live The Dead is a solid collection of pulp fiction stories.
Specialty publisher Crippen and Landru has taken all 10 of the Cave stories that appeared in Black Mask Magazine and collected them in a sharp package.
Cave began his lengthy career working in the pulp magazines before moving on to the higher-paying slick magazine and book markets. One of the most prestigious markets for pulp crime fiction was the legendary Black Mask Magazine, where the earliest stories in the hardboiled tradition were published.
Keith Deutsch opens the book with a lengthy interview with Hugh Cave about his pulp career and his experiences writing for three different editors of Black Mask, including the legendary Joseph Shaw. Cave is one of the few remaining primary sources who actually worked for the pulps, and perhaps the last survivor to have sold stories to Shaw.
Another nice feature is a bibliography of Cave’s detective and mystery fiction. Unfortunately, it’s admittedly incomplete, owing to the fact that even Cave is not sure of all the stories he’s written over his long career. A tragic fire at his writing studio a number of years ago destroyed Cave’s records and file copies.
There are bigger names in the hardboiled field than Cave, but he is a solid, competent writer who sold many stories to the crime pulps during their heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. Because of the time period over which these stories were written and published, Cave’s growth as a writer can be seen.
The first story, “Too Many Women,” is choppy in its action and plotting, but Cave wrote this story when he was only 23 and he soon improves.
The second story, “Dead Dog,” has a smoother execution and better plot, but still isn’t firing on all cylinders. It is, however, a good enough story to stand up with the rest of the collection.
Cave starts to show his sentimental side quickly, a tendency that aided his ability to sell stories to the upscale slick magazines, but keeps these from being as hard and brittle as some of his Black Mask contemporaries.
By the third story, “Shadow,” Cave has worked out how to plot a pulp story, and knows how to put his characters though their paces in what is a typical cop story of the day.
In “Curtain Call,” a cop risks his badge to investigate a suicide that, of course, is really a murder. The older cop who assists in this case is not on stage enough to make the sad ending effective as it could have been. It might have made a better story if Cave had told it through this cop’s eyes rather than through the eyes of the younger officer. It’s still a nice crime story and typical of pulp stories of the time.
The title story is very melodramatic: it’s about a former magician who must regain his lost skills in order to save his life and the life of the girl he loves, but doing so places him in jeopardy of a murder charge. The ending is too pat, and Cave uses coincidence, and the deathbed statement of a madman, to save his hero from the electric chair.
“Lost and Found” is a pretty good story, but Cave once again has trouble with his ending. The protagonist is a former newspaper reporter who has to track down the daughter of a millionaire in Florida. The reason for all of the fuss is a stretch and Cave’s hero has to rely on the actions of others, and last minute confessions, to succeed in his mission and figure out what is going on.
“Stranger in Town” has a trick ending, and some good villains, but the hero has to have a helping hand from fate to survive the story. In this story, Cave shows how well he can handle suspense and build to a climax.
While Black Mask is typically thought of as the home of private eyes, these stories are about cops or civilians and not about the stereotypical P.I. It’s also interesting to see that many of his protagonists are short, balding and not at all in the hulking tough-guy mode. His characters are physically competent, however, and can take a beating in the best hardboiled tradition.
This is a good book for Cave and Black Mask fans, even if it is not the place to begin for somebody just starting to read hard-boiled mysteries.
Crippen and Landru
Trade size paperback, 2001
240 pages, $16.00