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Hardboiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories Oxford University Press USA Bill Pronzini

5th July 2013 Literature & Fiction 31 Comments

What are the ingredients of a hard-boiled detective story? “Savagery, style, sophistication, sleuthing and sex,” said Ellery Queen. Often a desperate blond, a jealous husband, and, of course, a tough-but-tender P.I. the likes of Sam Spade or Philop Marlowe. Perhaps Raymond Chandler summed it up best in his description of Dashiell Hammett’s style: “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it….He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.”

Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind, with over half of the stories never published before in book form. Included are thirty-six sublimely suspenseful stories that chronicle the evolutiuon of this quintessentially American art form, from its earliest beginnings during the Golden Age of the legendary pulp magazine Black Mask in the 1920s, to the arrival of the tough digest Manhunt in the 1950s, and finally leading up to present-day hard-boiled stories by such writers as James Ellroy. Here are eight decades worth of the best writing about betrayal, murder, and mayhem: from Hammett’s 1925 tour de force “The Scorched Face,” in which the disappearance of two sisters leads Hammett’s never-named detective, the Continental Op, straight into a web of sexual blackmail amidst the West Coast elite, to Ed Gorman’s 1992 “The Long Silence After,” a gripping and powerful rendezvous involving a middle class insurance executive, a Chicago streetwalker, and a loaded .38. Other delectable contributions include “Brush Fire” by James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Raymond Chandler’s “I’ll Be Waiting,” where, for once, the femme fatale is not blond but a redhead, a Ross Macdonald mystery starring Macdonald’s most famous creation, the cryptic Lew Archer, and “The Screen Test of Mike Hammer” by the one and only Micky Spillane. The hard-boiled cult has more in common with the legendary lawmen of the Wild West than with the gentleman and lady sleuths of traditional drawing room mysteries, and this direct line of descent is on brilliant display in two of the most subtle and tautly written stories in the collection, Elmore Leonard’s “3:10 to Yuma” and John D. MacDonald’s “Nor Iron Bars.” Other contributors include Evan Hunter (better known as Ed McBain), Jim Thompson, Helen Nielsen, Margaret Maron, Andrew Vachss, Faye Kellerman, and Lawrence Block.

Compellingly and compulsively readable, Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories is a page-turner no mystery lover will want to be without. Containing many notable rarities, it celebrates a genre that has profoundly shaped not only American literature and film, but how we see our heroes and oursleves.

Prolific anthologist and mystery writer Pronzini (the Nameless Detective series) and Adrian (Detective Stories for the Strand) have compiled a superb anthology of gritty crime fiction. Grouped by decade, from the 1920s to the ’90s, the stories sample some of the best crime writers, many of whom cut their teeth on pulp, including Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Mickey Spillane, James M. Cain, Elmore Leonard, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), James Ellroy, Andrew Vachss and Lawrence Block. Some of the older tales, like Hammett’s plot-heavy, trick-ending “The Scorched Face,” haven’t aged well. Others, like Macdonald’s “Guilt-Edged Blonde,” a Lew Archer story, and Leonard’s “3:10 to Yuma,” a taut tale of a marshal escorting a convicted robber to prison, still impress in this account of the evolution of an American popular art form.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

If jazz is America’s contribution to music, then hard-boiled crime fiction is its literary equivalent. These 36 selections represent the best of the genre’s short form. The editors, both well respected in the field, have included plenty of big names but also have chosen some less famous but very talented writers. The pieces are arranged chronologically, and the editors provide concise literary biographies for each contributor. Among the most famous names are Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane, and Jim Thompson. Surprise entries include Elmore Leonard’s western story “3:10 to Yuma.” A western? Read it, and you’ll understand why you don’t need neon lights to generate hard-boiled atmosphere. Other highlights include Andrew Vachss’ nasty exercise in self-preservation, and Ed Gorman’s modern morality play in which the villains are weakness and lust, not thugs with guns. A wonderfully evil collection. Wes Lukowsky –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Hardboiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories

  • 31 responses to "Hardboiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories Oxford University Press USA Bill Pronzini"

  • lputlzpz
    4:14 on July 5th, 2013
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    This book is exactly what I was looking for- an anthology of the pioneers of the hardboiled detective, both famous and not; also, stories that are as short, intriguing, and as satisfying as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries. The editors behind Hard-Boiled smartly chose stories that weren’t based on reputation, but on their actual quality. Basically they made this book thinking, “If we had to fit what we felt were the best of American Crime Fiction, which stories should we share with the readers?” I love the stories they chose and I wouldn’t change a thing!

  • Rodney Todd
    4:40 on July 5th, 2013
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    This telephone-book sized anthology (clocking in at nearly 1200 pages!) lives up to its aspiration to be “The best crime stories from the pulps in their Golden Age”. It is divided into sections “The Crimefighters”, “The Villians”, and “The Dames”, with an appropriate introduction for each. Of course, the true masters are well represented: Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Cornell Wollrich, Erle Stanley Gardner, James M. Cain et al. But there are plenty of lesser known authors to round things out. One oddity is “Sally the Sleuth”, a comic-strip style from “Spicy Detective” – apparently created solely for the purpose of having most of her clothes ripped off. Obviously many of the best stories have been anthologized before, but can you believe there is a Hammett story that has never seen print? The only drawback is that this might be too much of a good thing -at just about three pounds, it’s a real wrist-bender of a volume! There are minor illustrations scattered throughout, although I would have sacrificed a couple of stories for a selection of pulp covers. At this price, why would any pulp fan pass – go for it!

  • Mikell Suede
    5:19 on July 5th, 2013
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    “Hard Boiled” is an absolutely first rate collection of short stories by some of the best AND least known writers of the genre. One of its two editors, Bill Pronzini, is an avid collector of the old Pulp magazines as well as being one of the best hard-boiled writers working today (he’s the author of the excellent “Nameless” detective series). He and co-editor Jack Adrian really know their stuff, as they show with an extensive introduction that explains in detail the history of the genre. They also provide good introductions for each individual writer, both the famous and the not-so famous, to give the reader a good perspective of where each author was coming from.

    The stories themselves are grouped by the decade in which they were published. The 1930s and 1950s are the most heavily represented because, the editors explain, they were the peak decades for hard-boiled fiction in terms of both poularity and quality. The book covers the 1920s to the 1990s.

    Overall, this is an excellent book for anyone who enjoys good crime stories.

  • HenryB
    6:55 on July 5th, 2013
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    In an era of widespread cynicism it’s good to know that there are still idealists out there. They may not be saints, but they’re usually on the good side. And in this fantastic collection of crime stories you won’t be bored. Many of these authors have appeared elsewhere, such as Ellery Queen or Hitchcock. But Pronzini & Adrian selected stories that have an edge to them. Like San Francisco in the early days…Worth it to own, because you’ll read it again!

  • rtruell
    8:56 on July 5th, 2013
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    This is a terrific collection of pulp stories, no question about that. But watch out! This volume consists of two other separately published volumes, bound together in one. If you already have “Pulp Fiction : The Crimefighters” and “Pulp Fiction : The Villains”, you’ll be sadly disappointed by this book! (And Amazon is doing their “Buy Them Together” thing with this book and one of its two component volumes. Bad Amazon! Bad!)

  • vobguy
    10:47 on July 5th, 2013
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    A great collection of stories from a bygone era. The only flaw is that the book is so big, it is a workout to hold up if reading while laying down!

  • Bray Bell
    11:25 on July 5th, 2013
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    A big collection , to be savoured and enjoyed slowly , like a box of one’s favourite chocolates ! The brief profiles for each writer create very readable pauses between the tales , and the black and white illustrations are perfectly in keeping with the mood and style of the stories , and the times . For a true crime fiction fan this book provides not only a continuous good read but also a light history of the way the genre developed , and the talent of the writers who created it for us .

  • Rosenda Sazama
    14:06 on July 5th, 2013
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    The book itself is good but the first two stories were removed using a razor so I didn’t even notice it at first.

  • Amiee Kobza
    15:02 on July 5th, 2013
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    This book may be the most enjoyable read I have encountered in many a year – Otto Penzler has not only assembled a treasure trove of sometimes clever, often exciting and always fun whodunits; he has presented the reader with a veritable time machine. These stories were originally published in monthly “pulp” magazines in the 20s,30s and 40s, and they place the reader squarely into the essence of those decades. We learn so much of the popular culture of those times – the cars, the slang, attitudes towards romance, towards issues of crime and punishment – consumer products – It was a blast to read and almost made me wish I were alive in those good old bad days. Well Done!

  • Soon Yetasook
    15:55 on July 5th, 2013
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    Pronzini and Adrian have chosen the best Crime Fiction short stories around. And even better, they provide historical perspectives and summaries of the works of the authors. I purchased the book not just to reread, but to have as a reference for which books of each author to read, and in what order. The best crime fiction anthology ever.

  • William D.
    18:58 on July 5th, 2013
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    Every once in a while a book comes along that you just know is going to be great before you even read it.

    “The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps” is such a book. I first ran across it while casually browsing through a small-town bookstore on a trip. Its lurid red-and-yellow cover practically screamed at me from the shelf. I looked around furtively before picking it up, checking to see if anyone was watching. After all, the goon with a rod threatening the blonde dame on the cover was a little (okay, a LOT) sensationalistic, and surely not typical fare for a serious reader. Its massive bulk–it felt more like a telephone directory than a regular book–seemed to hint at the density of ideas and words contained within its covers. I thumbed through it. That was all it took. I was hooked. I ordered it from Amazon as soon as I got home.

    Other than reading a few Dashiell Hammett novels while on a “Maltese Falcon” kick recently, I really had never read much crime fiction. Stories from the pulp magazines of the 1920′s, ’30′s and ’40′s, such as “Black Mask,” “Dime Detective” and “Detective Fiction Weekly,” were virgin territory for me. But I can’t imagine a better introduction than “The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.” The 51 stories and two full-length novels in its 1,150 pages are, bar none, some of the best examples of this classic hard-boiled American genre. They’re printed in a two-column format that presumably was the same way they were laid out in the pulps, and many of the stories include what seem to be original pulp-era drawings–a nice touch. I won’t even try to summarize or rank the stories. That would be an overwhelming task, and you’ll have your own favorites anyway. But I can guarantee you many hours of pure escapism as you work your way through this hefty tome. It’s great stuff, and great fun. Buy it and enjoy!

    19:40 on July 5th, 2013
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    More nostalgic than relevant, still, this is a big and readable collection of stories that have shaped, and are stilling influencing our movie and TV entertainments.

  • rufusmcbufus
    20:05 on July 5th, 2013
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    1200 pages of rich, chewy pulp goodness!

    You can’t find better value for your money anywhere. All the big names — Gardner, Cain, Woolrich, chandler, Hammett. The very best of the rest. A complete Race Williams novel.

    A must-have!

  • Ben S.
    22:36 on July 5th, 2013
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    If you love the fiction of the Hard Boiled Genre then Hard Boiled is a must for your collection. If you are just interested theres no better place to start. Taunt stories by authors great and small will provide hours of entertainment and the editors notes a tremendous resource in locating more material.

    A personal favorite is
    So cold , So pale, So Fair,
    Liegh Brackett

    Please read and enjoy

  • MagnumPI
    23:14 on July 5th, 2013
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    Nostalgic escapism at its finest… With all of the chaos of the modern world, it is nice to time travel back to the birth of contemporary popular crime detective fiction. A bit campy, and certainly not politically correct,it is still a great way to spend a lazy sunday afternoon on the porch. A bit unwieldy due to its size, but hey it IS the “Big Book” after all… Enjoy!

  • Alchemist
    2:32 on July 6th, 2013
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    any compilation is open to criticism as to what was omitted. but if you’re looking for a really big compilation of writing in this genre, it’s tough to beat this. and, the introductions for each author are a nice added touch for those of us who know only the big names.
    highly recommended.

  • Xander Palmer
    5:41 on July 6th, 2013
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    This is very interesting reading for anyone who likes detective and crime fiction. Many of the stories will be hard to find any place else.

    Especially good are “Human Interest Stuff” by Brett Halliday and “Graveyard Shift” by James Reasoner.

  • Brandon Jones
    7:45 on July 6th, 2013
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    Let’s say you’re somewhat interested in the crime pulps of the golden age. This is basically where you should start. Due to it’s massive size, you also might just end here too. Which isn’t a bad thing because there isn’t a throwaway in the bunch. You have your classic authors and forgotten gems.

    Probably the best anthology I’ve ever had the joy of reading. Required reading for any mystery fan.

  • Al Balboa
    9:01 on July 6th, 2013
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    Editor Otto Penzler, Edgar-winning proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop and founder of Mysterious Press, has picked out fourteen fast-paced and tightly-written tales (mostly from Black Mask magazine) from 1928 to 1942: an era of diamond-studded gangsters and glittering gun molls, a time long before political correctness.

    There are tough private eyes a-plenty, armloads of femmes fatales (a surprisingly large number of them redheads), honest “harness bulls” and corrupt cops, criminal lawyers as well as virtuous ones, even an heroic newspaper photographer.

    There’s a Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe story, `Red Wind’, which alone is worth the price of the book. On a night when the Santa Ana is blowing and “Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”, Chandler’s world-weary knight-errant witnesses a murder in a bar, and finds himself trying to sort through the mess created by an over-ambitious blackmailer in a way that will spare the innocent.

    It’s a beautifully written short piece, not just for its dialogue and prose, but for its characterization, its wonderfully tight little plot, and Marlowe’s personal code of honor.

    Similar in tone, if less polished, is Erle Stanley Gardner’s `Honest Money’, the tale of a young attorney’s first case. Ken Corning accepts the job of defending a woman arrested for bootlegging and attempted bribery. Almost instantly, he’s visited by a cop from the liquor detail, then by the man who tells New York’s mayor what to do.

    Corning soon discovers what “the ring” is prepared to do to defend one of its own – and not in a courtroom. It’s a cynical but oddly pleasing tale from the writer who’d later become famous as the creator of Perry Mason.

    Even more darkly cynical is Cornell Woolrich’s `Two Murders, One Crime’, a story of a detective who realizes that the police and eyewitnesses have sent an innocent man to the gallows. When the real murderer is caught, too late, the D.A. refuses to prosecute for fear of making the system seem fallible. The detective refuses to accept this, and begins a campaign of psychological warfare against the murderer.

    Leslie T. White’s `The City of Hell!’ also features crusading off-duty cops; it’s much less subtle in its plot, characterization, police procedures and ethics, or prose style than Woolrich’s (White used exclamation marks the way many modern writers use four-letter words), but it’s undeniably action-packed and exciting.

    `The Creeping Siamese’ is a Continental Op story by Dashiell Hammett, written immediately before he started work on the superb Red Harvest. It begins with a man walking into Continental’s offices and dropping dead on the floor, and doesn’t slow down much after that.

    While all of the stories are readable and entertaining, not all of them are gems. `Frost Rides Alone’ is lightweight and rather disappointing, considering that it came from Horace McCoy, author of the brilliant (though very depressing) They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? And Penzler admits to having chosen the closing piece, Carroll John Daly’s `The Third Murderer’ purely because of Daly’s role in inventing the prototype of the hard-boiled, wise-cracking P.I. in 1923.

    Penzler describes Daly rather unkindly as “truly a hack writer, devoid of literary pretension, aspiration and ability”, but while `The Third Murderer’ is perhaps the only story in the anthology that tends to ramble (at 136 pages, it’s also by far the longest), it is also one of the few that tries to give the reader some insight into the villain and the femme fatale. Some of the twists may seem clichéd now, but that can happen when you’re the pioneer in a field. It’s an interesting story rather than a completely successful one, but I think Penzler was right to include it.

    This book (previously released as Pulp Fiction: The Crimefighters) will not suit everyone’s tastes. The world of the pulps was a simpler one, but that doesn’t mean their simple answers were always good ones, and some readers may find some of these crimefighters difficult to warm to, or even tolerate.

    If you dislike fiction by dead white males with few roles for women except as victims or vamps; if you’re offended by stereotypes or epithets such as “good wop”; or even if you can’t help giggling at the phrase “private dick”, this book probably isn’t for you. For fans of the genre and the era, though, it’s a must-read. That’s a lead-pipe cinch.

  • GW Beals
    10:30 on July 6th, 2013
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    Huge anthology (well over 1000 pages) reprinting pulp crime stories from the 1930-40s. There are also 3 full length novels here too. A lot of the popular authors of the genre are here (Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane) along with quite a few unknown authors. There are some just OK stories here and there but nothing really bad. Most of the stories are very well written and exciting. The only problem is the size of it. This isn’t something you can read casually in bed at night! Still, well worth getting.

  • bottomline
    12:58 on July 6th, 2013
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    Hard-Boiled American crime fiction is Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Mickey Spillane, and many less familiar authors. The hard-boiled American crime fiction never really took root in Great Britain. Sam Spade was popular on the screen, but less so in the London bookstore. I was surprised to discover that the prestigious Oxford University Press had published this anthology of American crime fiction.

    What is hard-boiled crime fiction? According to the editors Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian, hard-boiled crime stories deal with disorder, disaffection, and dissatisfaction. The reader encounters a jaundiced view of government, power, and the law. The protagonist, sometimes a woman, is a social misfit, a loner. Most stories are reflective of their times, windows into history that offer the perspective of individuals that inhabited a particular, often unsavory locale.

    Some of the stories in this remarkable collection appear in other anthologies, but others are rarely encountered. Pronzini and Adrian have arranged these short stories chronologically, beginning with Hammett’s The Scorched Face (1926).

    Each story is introduced by a thoughtful preface. I gradually developed an understanding and appreciation for this uniquely American genre. Many of these entries qualify as pulp fiction; most are without any literary pedigree. And yet, this collection makes good reading. Entertainment, suspense, riveting characters, and a little cultural history are blended together. I highly recommend this anthology.

  • SSmith
    14:26 on July 6th, 2013
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    Few years back I had been introduced to the works of Raymond Chandler through an anthology. Since then, I have tried to read the ‘pulp fiction’ as much as possible, in every possible place. The last couple of years have seen the emergence of pulp-style fiction (whose characteristics may be broadly summarised as: taut narratives, witty & sharp dialogues/wisecracks, grim but determined attitude among the protagonists, etc.), as well as retro-pulp. This mammoth work, containing many stories representing that bygone era, only substantiates the obvious, that those penny-wise and often ridiculed authors knew how to tell a tale. Although, it might be a tad difficult for the reader to handle this mighty tome, satisfaction is guaranteed. Enjoy!

  • Natty Bumpo
    16:09 on July 6th, 2013
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    If you’re into reading the old pulp stuff back into the 20′s, 30′s and the 40′s, this is the book, and great value for the money and postage. The 1150 pages are broken into three sections: The Crimefighters, The Villains and The Dames (is that PC now?). Some of the writers include Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, etc., with introductions by Harlan Cohen, Harlan Ellison and Laura Lippman, edited by Otto Penzler. In the stories, we have the hard-hitting, tough detectives, cute but deadly fems, typical dumb, brutal hoods, and loads of classic tales about murder, betrayal, fraud, cheating lovers, and crimes that go seriously wrong and end up deadly. I agree with what the book advertises, “This is crime fiction at its gritty best!” Not a book for the airplane or the beach – too bulky and heavy – but very appropriate for the shaded table on the patio.

  • J Y Vance
    16:21 on July 6th, 2013
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    Hard Boiled is the greatest crime anthology that I have read. It’s full to the brim with great stories and has writers from every decade some well kown some not. Some great stories are Dashiell Hammet’s The Scorched Face, Roul Whitfield’s Misteral, James M Cain’s Brush Fire, Chester Himes Marijuana and a Pistol and Jim Thompson’s Forever After. It also has a great introduction. I seriously suggest you buy this book

  • ATAngel
    19:03 on July 6th, 2013
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    Most of these stories are good to great. My only critic is how can an anthology of pulp fiction not include anything from Jim Thompson, who is arguably the best at this craft!

  • Firebrand
    20:25 on July 6th, 2013
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    As a baby boomer, sometimes I look for things that make me feel good on cold, wet nights. This book certainly did that! I grew up as a child who viewed books as friends. This book is in that category. It is wonderful!

  • Gino Spagna
    23:03 on July 6th, 2013
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    Nearly 1200 pages of pulp fun, this enormous anthology contains some of the most notable authors of the era, as well as a great many that are now largely forgotten. I appreciate the chance to discover lost classics, curiosities, and other rarities. The great breadth of pulp fiction contained herein will, of course, contain plenty of hits and misses for each reader depending on his tastes, but taken as a whole you’re bound to have a good time with this book. Also sspecially noteworthy is Harlan Ellison’s sharply humorous introduction to the section of the book entitled VILLAINS.

  • Really?
    2:59 on July 7th, 2013
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    Oxford takes us through a survey course of hard-boiled fiction. A great starting point to find writers you like in the genre.

  • Paul DeGroot
    4:15 on July 7th, 2013
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    This thing is just what it sells itself as – BIG. We’re talking Beijing phonebook size. Not something you’ll want to take to the beach. But good for historic purposes, if you’re into popular fiction.

  • Arondale
    6:20 on July 7th, 2013
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    Trying to read this tome straight through is like accepting the personal challenge of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Some of the stories are terrific (Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite authors ever, and Hammet and Woolrich shine as well), some are mediocre and formulaic, and some are lousy and not worth the effort it takes to get to the end of the first page before giving up. Ultimately, though, this is a great overview of what pulp was about, with witty and helpful introductions for each story, and even though you will certainly not want to read pulp or noir for a long time after finishing the book, it is well worth the read. I recommend taking it in small sips, though, and you should read other books along the way if you want your enjoyment of the last stories to compare to the way the first ones entertained you.

  • bizManager
    8:45 on July 7th, 2013
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    Everything about this gigantic collection is fantastic, the 16.99 price tag is the best thing. It is an inexpensive way to get all of the great stories that made these pulp mags in the 20′s and 30′s great. Of course some of the stories are much better than the others but that is what makes the collection fun you run across stories and authors long lost to history. If you are looking for dirty, sleazy and fantastic private eye stories ranging from dames, drugs, thefts to murder than this is the only collection to quench your thirst.

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