Otto Penzler, Editor






Quercus/Murdoch Books, This Edition first published Nov 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

Otto Penzler has brought us fourteen short crime stories. Most of them originally appeared in the Black Mask Magazine during the 1920s through to the 1940s, the golden age of pulp detective fiction. These are fast paced stories that take us back to a time when men were men and the women swooned. A time when most of the crime fiction produced consisted of hard-boiled detectives, cynical cops and women who are either femme fatales, tarts with a heart or innocent victims. The stories are not politically correct by our standards today – but they are melodramatic, and very clever.

Pulp Fiction were usually cheaply printed mass market novels, the description ‘pulp’ came from the paper quality as pulp paper was the cheapest wood pulp newsprint available. Pulp fiction covered the genres of westerns, science fiction series, murder mysteries in serialized format, and, as in this collection, melodramatic crime stories.

Space won’t allow each story to be reviewed, but three are worthy of mention. Dashiell Hammett’s story The Creeping Siamese begins when a man walks into the Continental Detective Agency and falls over dead. He has been stabbed in the chest and a piece of red silk sarong is stuffed in the wound. Then there is Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind where his hero, Philip Marlowe, witnesses a murder in a bar one night when the Santa Ana is blowing and madness lurks in the wind. Marlowe has to clean up chaos created by a less than intelligent blackmailer and protect the innocent. The final story is Honest Money by Erle Stanley Gardner, who went on to write the Perry Mason novels. Young attorney Ken Corning’s first case is to defend a woman arrested for bootlegging and attempted bribery.

I haven’t read much vintage pulp fiction and found this collection a great place to start. Before each short story, Penzler gives a brief background of the author and plot. I have to say I enjoyed each of the stories and loved going back to look at the work of the pioneers of crime fiction.

Oct 2007 review originally published on Murder and Mayhem


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