Political correctness has blunted Samuel Johnson’s observation that a woman preaching was like a dog walking on its hind legs—the wonder was not that it was done well, but that it was done at all—but its point is still relevant to this collection of a dozen reprints, most from the 1950s and ’60s, by the bestselling author of the Kent Family Chronicles (The Bastard, etc.). In his engagingly self-deprecating preface, Jakes notes that before he came to historical romance, he scattered his energies indiscriminately across genres. Sadly, the stories themselves offer abundant evidence that his self-deprecation is entirely appropriate. Though they range from noir valentines like “The Girl in the Golden Cage” to flatly ironic anecdotes like “The Man Who Wanted to Be in the Movies” to actioners like “Little Man—It’s Been a Busy Day,” starring Jakes’s pint-sized series hero, con man Johnny Havoc, they all wilt under the weight of their models, from James Bond (“Dr. Sweetkill,” the longest tale here, and the one that’s dated most badly) to Edgar Allan Poe (“The Opener of the Crypt,” a sequel to ”The Cask of Amontillado,” decked out in appropriate purple) to Variety (the inspiration for a pair of detective stories that show why the deathless prose of headlines like “STIX CRIX NIX PIX” isn’t used in most short stories). The only recent story, the O.J.–inspired “Celebrity and Justice for All,” proves mainly that though the pulps may be gone, pulp fiction is forever.
Happily, then, the Kent Family’s gain was nobody’s loss.