The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories finds editor Otto Penzler following up his 2007 anthology The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps with "a sequel of sorts" as he describes it in the foreword, which focuses solely on the work from the famed pulp magazine. Black Mask started in 1920 and published works by such noted writers as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner. This isn't the first collection of Black Mask stories but Penzler claims it to be the most comprehensive. Keith Allen Deutsch, current owner of the brand, provides a richly detailed history of the magazine, which now has an online presence.
The magazine's original illustrations and notes from the editor accompany the stories, which aren't presented in chronological order. The first story is Gardner's "Come and Get It" (Apr. 1927), featuring his popular con man character Ed Jenkins in his 15th appearance in the magazine. Gardner gets a second entry in the book under the pseudonym Charles M. Green with "The Shrieking Skeleton" (Dec. 1923).
When writers found success with a character, they frequently revisited them and many recurring characters populate this book. Frederick Nebel's Capt. Steve MacBride and his sidekick Kennedy, a wiseguy reporter and alcoholic appear in "Doors in the Dark" (Feb. 1933). Nebel's MacBride stories became a film series and a radio show, as did those of George Harmon Coxe's newspaper photographer/detective Jack "Flashgun" Casey, who appears in "Fall Guy" (June 1936). Brett Halliday's Michael Shayne was very popular in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, and the detective is featured in "A Taste for Cognac" (Nov. 1944).
Penzler selected stories that featured a number of first appearances that should thrill pulp fans. There is Merle Constiner's private detective Luther McGavok in "Let the Dead Alone" (July 1942), and W. T. Ballard's Bill Lennox, a motion picture troubleshooter, in "A Little Different" (Sept. 1933). Peter Collinson's "Arson Plus" (Oct. 1923) is particularly notable because Collinson is actually Dashiell Hammett, and this is the first Continental Op story.
Credited as the inventor of the hard-boiled private eye story, Carroll John Daly's Race Williams first appears in "Knights of the Open Palm" (June 1923). Race tells the story about a case involving the Klan in a brisk, clipped, straightforward style that became a signature element of the genre. Considered one of the genre's greatest writers, Raymond Chandler's entry is his last "Black Mask" story, "Try the Girl" (Jan. 1937).