Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Big Book of Black Mask Stories

I recently read an advance review copy of The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. In it, anthologist and Mysterious Bookshop owner Otto Penzler has gathered a stunning collection of short stories, novelettes, and novels published in that wonderful pulp magazine. You could never hope to find these stories on your own. The original magazines are rare and only two entire collections exist (The Library of Congress is one of them). This huge 1,000-page-plus paperback volume (just $25) is full of dope heads, gamblers, gangsters, cops, femmes fatales and hard-boiled American heroes. These fellas are good with guns and with their fists —reporters, photographers, cops, sailors, and such— working-class men who work hard for a living and have a sense of right and wrong. OK, so they smoke and drink a lot, but they are idealistic and sentimental, tough guys with gold hearts. They are street-wise and wise-crackers.

The original Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is included in its original serial installments with 3,000 differences from the version we have today (the differences are not indicated in the text, however - too bad. I only say it is 3,000 because of the publicist). Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald are here, Erle Stanley Gardner and Cornell Woolrich, too, but many lesser knowns who are awesome. The writer intros are informative and there are many illustrations from the original mag. Very cool. Penzler's intro and the prologue by the last Black Mask publisher granting insights into some famous writers are terrific. I wish there was a better way to organize the material, me being an academic - I mean, a chronological or thematic arrangement would have been nice. The organization is a bit haphazard.

OK, there is misogyny and racism here and there, but hey: it was the early 20th Century. We know better now. We can still appreciate each story that presents American heroes who did their job, dirty though the work was, with a sense of chivalry.

It's due for a late September release.

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