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Black Mask 1: Doors in the Dark

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Black Mask 1: Doors in the Dark

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Product Review (submitted on October 22, 2011):

The audio book selection from “Black Mask Stories” presents five pulp fiction selections from the classic magazine of hardboiled crime. I found it an extremely mixed bag. I think the inclusion of the entire introduction on the audio book was a mistake. It’s lengthy (over half of the first CD) and refers to many selections that are not on the CD, which I found pointless. The first story, “Come and Get It” by Erle Stanley Gardner, didn’t impress me, either. Gardner’s writing never was to my liking, but withstanding that, this is the middle episode of a three-parter, therefore hard to follow at first. It also features a “crook with a heart of gold” type of character who was better done by others. In this instance, he offers smug self-congratulatory asides at every turn as he thwarts the crime boss “Icy Eyes”.

I confess to being a Dashiell Hammett fan, so it’s little wonder that the second story, “Arson Plus,” written using the pseudonym Peter Collinson, was my favorite. It’s a Continental Op story, and I’ve read it before, but Alan Sklar’s reading was excellent, convincingly portraying the Op as he methodically pieces together the crime. An early Hammett work, it still is impressive in its spare language.

“Fall Guy” by George Harmon Coxe follows, a Flashgun Casey story. The tough guy newspaper photographer and crime solver doesn’t seem particularly capable in this tale, but blunders into solving the case after many of the main characters are shot and killed. Coxe wrote better.

“Doors in the Dark” by Frederick Nebel features a hardboiled police captain and his sidekick, an alcoholic wisecracking newspaperman. I’ve always thought that if it requires a long explanation of what went on and why at the end of the story there was something amiss in its telling, but maybe that’s a matter of taste. It was a fairly absorbing puzzle, well narrated by Pete Larkin.

“Luck” by Lester Dent made me think of John MacDonald’s Travis McGee stories, not just because the protagonist is a hard-up detective/sailor. It’s a brawl from start to finish, and does strain the credulity that anyone could take as much punishment and be alive at the end. It was an OK story, and held my interest.

Listening to these stories from the Twenties and Thirties was fun. I hope that more of the best Black Mask tales find their way to audio book in the future.