Review of Long Live The Dead by Hugh B. Cave

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

Authored by Warren Harris.