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The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original)

1 rating: 2.0
A book by Keith Alan Deutsch

Starred Review. Let's put it straight, like a fist in the face: this treasure trove of more than 50 stories and novels offers the best value ever for fans of hard-boiled detective fiction. In the pulp magazine Black Mask (1920–1951), Dashiell Hammett … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Keith Alan Deutsch
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Vintage
1 review about The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask...

Sears catalog of Black Mask mysteries

  • Jul 31, 2011
Rating:
+2
This 1100-page collection of Black Mask murder mysteries is as thick as the Sears catalog of its day, and just as chock full of goods--good guys, gory gangsters,  and grand dames.  The stories are all collected from the Black Mask magazine form the 20s, 30s, and 40s, by authors as famous as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, and Cornell Woolrich.  

As in any omnibus collection like this, the quality of the stories tend to be uneven.  It is easy to see why some authors were more famous than others.  Also, from the biographies introducing each story and its author (no author is represented more than once) it appears that in most cases these are not the author's best-known stories or even best-known characters.  Perhaps it was Penzler's intention to showcase lesser known stories (many stories are do appear here in anthology form for the first time) but sometimes I was left feeling cheated.

Some things are consistent in these stories--the language is tough and colorful, the cars are long and fast, the women are cold, bold, and beautiful.  I was also struck by how the historical contest of the times when these stories were written and first published shaped their style, content, and outcomes:  
  • The go-go years of the 20s whose surface prosperity was driven by the casual law-breaking of the Prohibition era.
  • The down years of the Depression where every level of society was under pressure to survive financially, and some succumbed to temptations to crime, and even those tho didn't fed off the desperation.
  • The war years of the 40s where a living was easier to earn but life was cheaper and violence an easy answer to too many questions.

While most of these stories still stand on their own as entertainment and literature, they all stand out in these contexts with the darker relevance of cultural and political history.

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