Friday, September 24, 2010

Dinosaurs

A remarkable gift came your way as a review copy.  Eleven hundred sixteen pages of it.  That would be The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, a compilation of so-called noir mystery and pulp fiction, written by some of the then masters in their field.  Black Mask Magazine was the quintessential pulp magazine, its covers bold with four-color depictions of tough gangsters, cynical cops, and machine-gun toting molls who were at once inviting and no-nonsense foreboding.  You began haunting used book stores for them, by the mid 70s owning well over a hundred, including the issue with the first appearance of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon.

By that time, you'd risen to the point of authority at Sherbourne Press where you could and did dictate policy.  "We are beginning a mystery list," you announced at one memorable meeting, trying to sound more editorial than portentous.  You were riding high, with a growing list of money makers.  You set forth to contract a number of writers whom one of your favorite authors, William F. Nolan, called The Black Mask Boys, in his anthology of those noir pulp stories.  One of your first acquisitions was The Hardboiled Dicks, which you just recently had occasion to order from Amazon.  Quickly on the heels of leasing massmarket paper rights of it to Pocket Books, you swooped down on Frank Gruber to get Brass Knuckles, a collection of his Oliver Quade, The Human Encyclopedia, stories, and Gruber's close friend, Steve Fisher, teasing from him the novel he'd considered his best, Saxon's Ghost, a haunting--literally and figuratively--tale about a professional magician named Saxon, the Great.

You were working on one of the regulars from the mystery writers' poker game, Day Keene, whom you surely thought to land; after all, Day write a Gold Medal paperback original a month.  You never got Day, but his one-time neighbor from Florida, Bob Turner, came through for you, and there was the  excitement of getting Bill S. Ballinger to let you do a reprint of a mystery you'd read as a kid, Portrait in Smoke, which did well enough for you to convince him to let you have The Forty-Nine Days of Death.  Meanwhile, you'd gotten Gruber a bit taken in wine and promising to do an autobiography focusing on his pulp days, The Pulp Jungle.

For a long moment, while reading through this massive and encompassing work, you were hit with the sudden awareness that they were all of them--those you knew personally and by reputation--gone, which brought you up with a start before the rebellion kicked in, informing you that you are way too young to be a dinosaur.  Besides, you have the book, sitting now on your shelf next to The Hardboiled Omnibus and The Hardboiled Dicks, and to have these is to have it all.

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