“Black Mask 1: Doors in the Dark -And Other Crime Fiction from the Legendary Magazine”
Edited by Otto Penzler
read by Eric Conger, Oliver Wyman, Alan Sklar, Pete Larkin, and Jeff Gurner
Produced by High Bridge Audio
Approx 7 hours

When I say the words “Pulp Fiction,” what comes to your mind?  Maybe the movie of the same name?  Keep that in mind because I’ve got a surprise for you.  For me the movie was the first thing that would come to mind, but recently I’ve been listening to audio books of stories from the days of the Pulp Fiction magazines.

This latest audio book is a real gem.  “Black Mask 1” is the first in the series of stories turned to audio books from the “Black Mask” pulp that was printed between 1921 -1950.  These stories all have that great film noir/gumshoe detective feel and make for some great short stories.  In its hey day, “Black Mask” printed stories from some prominent authors of the day, and this first edition starts out with a bang with some great and fun stories.   Before we talk about those, remember the movie “Pulp Fiction?”  The movie was, in its early days, actually titled “Black Mask,” because Quentin Tarantino drew his inspiration from the pulp magazine.

Each of the stories is read by a different narrator and each one does a superb job of reflecting the story’s emotion and the sound of the time.  If you close your eyes while listening to “Black Mask 1…” in your mind you can easily visualize a film noir gumshoe detective movie from the same era of these stories.

The introduction to the audio book is written  by Keith Alan Deutsch and read by Eric Conger.  It gives a very nice history of the age of the pulps and especially that of “Black Mask” magazine.

The stories included in this collection are:

“Come and Get It” by Erle Stanley Gardner; read by Oliver Wyman.
Erle Stanly Gardner was a self taught lawyer who took on the extra job of writing for the pulps to make up for the lack of money he earned as a lawyer, after a few years he turned his writing into full time and created the character, Perry Mason.  This story “Come and Get It” ran in the April, 1927 issue of “Black Mask” and features the character, Ed Jenkins.  Ed Jenkins is known to many as the Phantom Prowler, because he can never be caught.  This time around Jenkins is warned by a crook that a woman with a mole on her hand will try to kill him.  In trying to track down this woman, Jenkins discovers a plot by the local crime boss to steal the city’s best jewelry.  Jenkins sets out to foil the plot of the crime boss and the lady with a mole.

“Arson Plus” by Peter Collinson (Dashiell Hammett); read by Alan Sklar.
Peter Collinson (Dashiell Hammett) worked for the Pinkerton Detective agency and was one of the folks that brought down actor Fatty Arbuckle.  Published originally in the October, 1923 issue of “Black Mask,” and tells the story of a detective that comes in to investigate a shady arson which the local sheriff has considered the case closed.  The best part of this story is the reader in this case.  Alan Sklar’s voice fits the story perfectly and keeps you listening with what his cigar and gin soaked voice.

“Fall Guy” by George Harmon Coxe; read by Pete Larkin
George Harmon Coxe wrote in the sports, romance and sea stories but his best known works are his detective stories.    This story first appeared in the June, 1936 issue of “Black Mask,” and tells of newspaper photographer “Flashgun” Casey who gets called on to deliver ransom money for an old gal pal who had some photos taken when she was younger that she doesn’t want released.  You know the story, she was young, needed the money, so nude photos were taken.  Casey helps her out but finds out things are not all on the up and up.

“Doors in the Dark” by Frederick Nebel; read by Pete Larkin
Frederick Nebel created the stories featuring the tough detective Steve McBride and the wisecracking Newspaper reporter Kennedy.  Warner Brothers bought the McBride series and made nine films, in the movies Kennedy was turned into a woman by the name of Torchie Blaine and the object of her affections was McBride.  This story was originally published in the February, 1933 issue and tells the story of an apparant suicide of one of McBride’s friends.  But something doesn’t sit right with McBride so he investigates deeper even though every single clue only leads back to suicide.

“Luck” by Lester Dent; read by Jeff Gurner    Introduction by Keith Alan Deutsch; read by Eric Conger
Lester Dent created Doc Savage under the name of Kenneth Robison and was very successful with this series.  After Savage, Dent created the loner boatman Oscar Sail who is the subject of this story.  Originally published in the October, 1936 issue and is an earlier draft of one the Oscar Sail stories.    In this story Sail sets out to find some seedy characters, all the while setting up slot machines to pay off to some lucky gambler, never himself.

Each one of these stories has its twists and turns that keep you guessing as to what happens next, which is what makes them so fun to hear. I know I’m looking forward to the next edition.

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