Monday, November 08, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories edited by Otto Penzler

Three years after New York City bookseller and editor Otto Penzler delivered to the reading public his last behemoth anthology of classic crime fiction, The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps (he probably needed the interval between just to rest from the effort of assembling that project), he’s back with an almost equal-size short-story collection for fans of hard-boiled prose, The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard). The former volume covered an extensive range of short fiction from assorted sources. This new one draws solely from the rich publishing files of Black Mask magazine.

Launched in 1920 by journalist H.L. Mencken and critic George Jean Nathan, and intended primarily to help offset the production costs of what they considered their more prestigious periodical, The Smart Set, the pulpish Black Mask was soon sold to its publishers, and came under the editorial control of the legendary Joseph T. “Cap” Shaw. From 1926 until his resignation a decade later, Shaw bought and printed tough, sometimes brutal yarns of criminality and corruption by writers who would together develop modern-day American crime fiction, people on the order of Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald and Cornell Woolrich. All of those wordsmiths are represented in The Black Lizard Big Books of Black Mask Stories, together with marginally less familiar talents such as Fredric Brown, Talmadge Powell, William Campbell Gault, Frank Gruber, George Harmon Coxe, Carroll John Daly, Brett Halliday, Richard Denning, Bruno Fischer, Norbert Davis and ... well, this list could go on and on. Penzler has compiled more than 50 notable yarns inside these paperback covers. Among the reprints are Hammett’s original, serialized version of The Maltese Falcon, with “more than two thousand textual differences” from its 1930 novel version; and “Rough Diamonds,” a series of six connected stories by Ramon Decolta (aka Raoul Whitfield) starring Filipino sleuth Jo Gar. In addition, we find here “Luck,” a previously unpublished draft of Lester Dent’s first outing for Florida investigator Oscar Sail.

Some of these stories appeared in an important earlier work, The Hard-Boiled Detective: Stories from Black Mask Magazine, 1920-1951, edited by Herbert Ruhm (1977). But so much time has passed since I read that collection that I don’t remember most of them, and the other offerings in The Black Lizard Big Books of Black Mask Stories are numerous enough that I may not even get a chance to revisit the stories I’ve read until sometime early next year. For all of us who missed living through the Black Mask era, Penzler’s new anthology provides both a pleasant trip back to crime fiction’s fast-paced and firepower-filled roots and a welcome escape from the disappointing sameness of so many genre works being published nowadays.

Labels: ,


Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Over the summer, in England, I picked up two Penzler collections-The Criminalists and The Villains.Some connection?

Monday, November 8, 2010 at 3:14:00 PM PST  
Blogger J. Kingston Pierce said...

I don't believe there is any particular connection, other than the fact that Penzler edited all of these books. There are a couple of Penzler collections, at least, that I believe only saw print in the UK, and never made it across the Atlantic.


Monday, November 15, 2010 at 4:41:00 PM PST  
Blogger Keith Alan said...

The British volumes, The Crimefighters, The Villains, and The Dames were each published as separate volumes by Quercus, the original publisher for The Big Book of Pulps collection.

Gathered into one volume by Random House as The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, the single volume was first released in America. Later a single trade paperback editions title simply The Big Book of Pulps was issued by Quercus. The format and the stories are identical in al editions except for the title changes, and the fact tht the original British edition was published in three separate volumes.

I helped Otto Penzler assemble this material, and licensed about 85 percent of the stories to him Quercus, and Radnom House from my catalogue of pulp fiction holdings.

The Big Book of Pulps, and The Big Book of Black Mask Stories are groundbreaking publications for the scope of the material presented, and the care with which stories and art from the original magazines were collected. Never has so much "never before published in a book" pulp fiction been released at one time.

Keith Alan Deutsch, Publisher
Black Mask Magazine

Friday, December 10, 2010 at 5:58:00 AM PST  
Blogger Keith Alan said...

The Big Book of Pulps was originally published in Breat Britain by Quercus in three volumes: The Crimefighters, The Villains, and The Dames. Random House published the three volumes in one omnibus collection they titeld The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulp Stories. Later, Quercus also brought out a single trade paperback called The Big Book of Pulps.

I helped Otto Penzler assemble the stories and art for these collections, and licensed about 85 percent of the fiction to him, quercus, and to Random House from my pulp fiction holdings.

We worked together in the same way to assemble The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. These two volumes are significant publishing events because never before has so much original art and fiction been assembled from the original magazines and brought out in a book for the first time.

Nothing like these two books has ever been published before. The Sherlock Holmes corpus as originally published in magaazines is the most similar project, but lacks both the scope and depth and the number of decades of periodical publishing that these Big Books represent.

Keith Alan Deutsch, Publisher
Black Mask Magazine

Friday, December 10, 2010 at 6:11:00 AM PST  

Post a Comment

<< Home