A star-studded memorial, thick as cement overshoes, to an oddly shaped century.
It’s instructive to compare Ellroy and Penzler’s behemoth to Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins’s A Century of Noir (2002). Though it includes more stories (39 to 32), even fewer are by women (three to five). Only one story is duplicated—Gil Brewer’s bleak anecdote “The Gesture”—and there are only seven additional authors: Spillane, James M. Cain, Dorothy B. Hughes, David Goodis, Evan Hunter, Ed Gorman and Lawrence Block. The oddest feature of the present collection, though, is the serious overrepresentation of recent decades. There are two stories from the 1920s, one—Steve Fisher’s workmanlike, forgettable “You’ll Always Remember Me”—from the ’30s, three from the ’40s, six from the ’50s, two from the ’60s, two from the ’70s, three from the ’80s—and then ten from the ’90s and ten more from 2000-2007. Are we living through a golden age of noir? No, but a golden age of Penzler anthologies, since no fewer than 16 of the stories here, nearly all the volume’s second half, were first published or reprinted in earlier collections he edited or published. Special treats include Tod Robbins’s “Spurs” (the basis of the film Freaks), Cornell Woolrich’s final story, “For the Rest of Her Life,” F.X. Toole’s ringside saga “Midnight Emissions,” and Scott Wolven’s savage “Controlled Burn,” as well as the equally dark tales by Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Thomas H. Cook and perennial Penzler favorite Joyce Carol Oates.
Most of the others are worth your time as well—unless, or maybe even if, you’ve already caught them in previous Penzlers.