From: Jack Bludis ( buildsnburns@yahoo.com)
Date: 17 Nov 2007

Marilyn Stasio does a weekly column in the NYTimes in which she usually does four minireviews of mystery volumes. Sunday's has only three reviews, but this is the one I think will be most interesting to Rara.

Looks like it's worth getting.


Anthologies normally sit on the night table, handy for nibbling. But THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF PULPS (Vintage, paper, $25), which runs to 1,150 pages and screams at you with its lurid typography and cheesy cover art, looks as if it would bite back. Should you take that chance, there's guilty fun to be had in the snarling prose and vintage illustrations of what the editor, Otto Penzler, promises are "the best crime stories" from the "golden age" of the '20s, '30s and '40s. Most were culled from Dime Detective, Detective Fiction Weekly and (pause for genuflection) Black Mask, the cream of the 500 or so cheaply produced magazines that proliferated on newsstands before World War II. While you don't go trawling for Faulkner among the journeymen authors in Depressionera America who wrote their fingers raw for a penny a word, names like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich and James M. Cain are well represented here. And someone you think you know can always spring a surprise, as Erle Stanley Gardner does with his suave but forgotten sleuth, Ed Jenkins, the "phantom crook" in "The Cat-Woman."

Still, I suggest putting off the big guns for the joy of discovering a lesser-known worthy like Steve Fisher - whose teenage sociopath in "You'll Always Remember Me" is indeed memorable - or for the jolt of stumbling across one of those "weird menace" novelties about avenger heroes who traipse around in silly costumes. (Penzler's editorial notes are especially helpful in putting these pulp phenomena in perspective.) That said, I admit to having made a beeline for "Faith," an unpublished story by Dashiell Hammett, whose shrugged-off prose looks even tougher in the double-wide column format. But even among the literati, a tasteful style isn't really the point of hardboiled pulp writing. As indicated by the anthology's three sections - "The Crimefighters," "The Villains" and "The Dames" -
 these adventures satisfy because they encode every kind of male fantasy into their formulaic narratives about cynical private operatives plugging bad guys in defense of women who'll betray them in the end. So it's not exactly P.C., but as one smart dame puts it when a kidnapper offers to educate her in crime: "Jake with me, Ed."

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