RARA-AVIS: More by Torrey?

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 12 Nov 2002

Here is a frustrating situation. Having read and enjoyed 42 DAYS FOR MURDER by Roger Torrey, I want to read more by him. This was his only novel but he was a Black Mask regular. Indeed, checking E.R. Hagemann's index to Black Mask, Torrey has fifty appearances listed from his debut in the January 1933 issue to his final appearance in April 1942. Not only that but four of the stories published in 1937-38 feature private eye Shean Connell. Having loved 42 DAYS, I very much want to read these other Connell adventures. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge none of the four have reprinted.

In fact, Torrey is one of the least reprinted Black Mask regulars. Joseph Shaw did choose a Torrey story for his historic THE HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS
(Simon and Schuster 1946). It was "Clean Sweep" from the February 1934 issue. I scratched around among the other likely anthologies on hand but came up dry. I had a moment of excitement when I spotted the Torrey byline in Maxim Jakubowski's PULP ACTION but it turned out to be another reprint of
"Clean Sweep."

I suspect the problem is that the issues of Black Mask are too rare for much delving by anthologists. Too often they rely on what has been reprinted before by Fred Dannay in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and certainly by Shaw in his anthology and Ron Goulart in HARD-BOILED DICKS. As Torrey apparently died before the mushrooming of paperback reprints and didn't leave a widow or family to prod an agent, his stories are lost in those old issues. Perhaps they are lacking in quality but somehow I doubt that given the number of appearances in a magazine tough to crack like Black Mask.

It is possible to seek out those issues but it would take time and more money than I am willing to invest in the effort. One issue from 1937 for sale on ABE Books is going for $150.00. I imagine an issue of Black Mask that also contains a Chandler story would go for even more. Unlike science fiction and fantasy, collectors came late to mystery fiction with some exceptions like Fred Dannay. While not common, there were a reasonable number of complete sets of Weird Tales accumulated through the years. This didn't happen with Black Mask and to collect a complete run of the 340 issues of Black Mask at this late date would require a huge financial investment.

I can only hope that the popularity of hard-boiled fiction from the old school will continue to increase and make it worthwhile for someone to go in and mine the gold in those rare issues.

Richard Moore

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