In this follow-up to Long Live the Dead (2000), prolific pulp survivor Cave, still active at 92, collects 11 stories he wrote between 1936 and 1940 for Detective Fiction Weekly. Though the types on display range from detection (a police detective examines the circumstances that made his old flame a widow in “Trail of the Torch”) to morality play (a little pickpocket finds true love in “Murder at Hand”) to good old-fashioned action (a counterfeiter just released from prison is framed for more of the same in “Queer Street”), a few ingredients are remarkably consistent. Whether they’re lawmen or numbers runners, Cave’s heroes are invariably ordinary guys whose biggest dreams are surviving the Depression (“I couldn’t die this way. . . . I had a good job now and a future,” thinks the hero of “Beards Grow Slowly” as he’s about to suffer his old gang’s revenge) and winning their women. And the women themselves, in a reversal of the Hammett-Chandler formula, are well worth winning, however guilty they may seem. The combination of male simplicity and female innocence gives Cave’s stories a sweetness and hopefulness strangely at odds with such menacing titles as “A Picture of Guilt,” “Easy to Kill,” and “Deadline.” But although he can make the pages fly, Cave’s refusal to come to closer grips with the realities of injustice and evil, which always remain the province of dark forces out there, keep him from the front rank.
Nostalgic tales that must have seemed gauzy even in their first bloom.