THE BLACK MASK BOYS by William F. Nolan


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Very brief biographies of eight hard-boiled detective writers from the Black Mask magazine era (ca. 1922-1943), along with reprintings of one Black Mask story by each pulp pioneer. Nolan (Hammett, McQueen) begins with a capsule history of Black Mask--from its creation in 1920, as a Mencken/Nathan attempt to keep The Smart Set solvent with a more commercial sister magazine, through its early-1930s heyday and 1940s decline; he salutes editor Joseph Thompson Shaw, who stressed simplicity, plausibility, and character as well as action. And he then goes on to profile the individual writers--three of whom have no need of thumbnail-sketch introductions: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Eric Stanley Gardner. (The Hammett rÉsumÉ is especially, irritatingly simplistic.) On the other band, fans of antique hard-boilers may enjoy the mini-rundowns on less widely chronicled pulpsters: Carroll John Daly, the mousy, mild-mannered father of the tough-wise-guy detective story (""artificial, awkward. . . endlessly repetitious, hopelessly melodramatic""); Raoul Whitfield, at his unimpressive best in aviation-action thrillers; Frederick Nebel, Horace (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) McCoy, and Paul Cain. Thin as literary history, even thinner as criticism or biography, and lacking the humor that Bill Pronzini brought to buff-ism in Gun in Cheek (1982)--but pleasant enough browsing for pulp aficionados.

Pub Date: Dec. 13th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow