Veteran anthologist Penzler, who’s had highly variable results commissioning new stories (Dead Man’s Hand: Crime Fiction at the Poker Table, 2007, etc.), turns back to the sure-fire past.
Here is God’s plenty, or at least Mugsy’s. As if the job were too much for him, Penzler, who introduces a section called “The Crimefighters,” has enlisted Harlan Ellison (who doesn’t seem to have read the assignment) and Laura Lippman to introduce “The Villains” and “The Dames.” Of the 57 reprints, 56 originally appeared in pulp magazines. The highlights are the usual suspects. There are three stories apiece by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and Cornell Woolrich, and the dramatic drop-off all around them explains why you know those names better than you know Leslie T. White, Paul Cain, D.B. McCandless, Norbert Davis, Richard B. Sale, C.S. Montanye or Roger Torrey (two stories each). The most striking curiosities are “Sally the Sleuth,” a pair of comic strips by Adolphe Barreaux, and “Faith,” a Hammett sketch that’s never been published in hardcover. The writing ranges from hardboiled sublime (Chandler’s “Red Wind”) to execrable (Carroll John Daly’s The Third Murderer). Virtually all the stories go on too long, but Daly’s short novel helps demonstrate why the longish story was pulp fiction’s ideal métier, and what miracles Red Harvest and The Big Sleep were.
Part reference, part guilty pleasure, part doorstop.