Saturday, October 09, 2010
Pick a Pair of Penzlers
Otto Penzler's editorial hand can be found on two important collections this fall. The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories by Otto Penzler and Keith Alan Deutsch is a massive anthology that is an ideal companion to his earlier The Big Book of Pulp Stories. The centerpiece has to be the version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon as it was published in serial form in Black Mask.
But even given such names as Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and John D. MacDonald, the most interesting material comes from the writers who never quite broke out of the pulps. Writers such as Fredric Brown, Day Keene, William Campbell Gault, Lester Dent, Norbert Davis demonstrate not only how good Black Mask was but also how varied it was in subject matter and approach.
Another feature of this giant book is the artwork from the original publication. I don't have to say any more, do I?
The Best American Noir of The Century edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler starts in 1923 and comes all the way up to 2007. Cornell Woolrich, David Morrell, Jim Thompson, Ellroy himself number among the more prominent names but there are treats to be had from writers of every stripe. If you've never read William Gay, for instance, here's an opportunity to see just how fine a prose stylist and how devious a storyteller he is. I was particularly interested in the MacKinlay Kantor story that was the basis for the iconic noir film "Gun Crazy." (I have a story in here, too.)
Ellroy and Penzler have managed to show how rich the noir tale can be. There are literary stories, pulp thrillers and, as with the William Gay story, a take on the clash of old and new Americas in a quietly horrorific tale that is not only appropriate to our troubled times but also has the power of myth in its ending.
A collection that belongs on the shelf of every reader of crime fiction.