Black Lizard’s latest plus-size anthology, reprinting 72 stories, practically all of them published in the U.S. and U.K. over the past two centuries, is a monument to bad behavior.
With obvious exceptions like Hannibal Lecter and Count Dracula, fictional criminals have rarely attracted the same attention as fictional detectives because they’ve rarely had the same staying power. Even so, veteran anthologist Penzler (Bibliomysteries, 2017, etc.) has assembled a lineup of franchise luminaries likely to quicken the pulse of many a genre fan: Grant Allen’s Colonel Clay, E.W. Hornung’s A.J. Raffles, Thomas W. Hanshew’s Hamilton Cleek, Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin, Clifford Ashdown’s Romney Pringle, K. and Hesketh Prichard’s Don Q, Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu, Frederick Irving Anderson’s The Infallible Godahl and Sophie Lang, O. Henry’s Jeff Peters and Andy Tucker, Jack Boyle’s Boston Blackie, Gerald Kersh’s Karmesian, Edgar Wallace’s Four Square Jane, Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar, Erle Stanley Gardner’s Ed Jenkins, Lester Leith, Paul Pry, and the Patent Leather Kid, Edward D. Hoch’s Nick Velvet, Robert L. Fish’s Kek Huuygens, Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr, Martin Ehrengraf, and John Keller, Max Allan Collins’ Quarry, Donald E. Westlake’s Dortmunder, and of course Dracula. The most notable omission, mentioned in Penzler’s brief Introduction but unaccountably absent from the table of contents, is Melville Davisson Post’s crooked lawyer, Randolph Mason. Although these franchise entries are naturally of varying quality, many of them mark their villains’ (or their rogues’—Penzler’s conscientious attempt to categorize every single one of these nefarious leads as either one or the other or both seems a pointless exercise) first appearances, giving this collection an added historical interest. Newcomers may want to begin with the most celebrated nonfranchise tales: Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Body Snatcher,” Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Thomas Burke’s “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole,” Ben Hecht’s “The Fifteen Murderers,” and William Irish’s “After-Dinner Story.” Old hands may note that bad guys can make just as big a splash in a short story as in a long one: the lengthiest item here, Donald E. Keyhoe’s pulp novella The Mystery of the Golden Skull, packs no greater punch than the oldest story of all, one of the shortest, and one of the most shockingly unexpected from its source, Washington Irving’s “The Story of a Young Robber.”
Weighing in at a svelte 928 pages, Penzler’s omnibus is equally impossible to pick up and put down.