There are far too many stories for me to comment on all of them, but I have a few words to say about several. The Robert E. Howard story, "Names in the Black Book," features waterfront detective, Steve Harrison, in a Yellow Peril tale. I know I risk offending Howard fans when I say this, but some of the writing is pretty bad. Harrison grunts a lot: "Might be a forgery," grunted the detective, and dialogue is tagged all the time with stuff like answered cryptically, growled pugnaciously, asked abruptly, agreed cheerfully, and so on. Here's one that puzzled me: "But I can't stay here," he scowled worriedly. How do you scowl dialogue? The story itself is full of hacking, slashing, shooting, macing, and plenty of action, which Howard does well, but it's a decidedly lesser effort.
Chandler's "The King in Yellow" is again the high point of the volume, but that's not to slight Leigh Brackett's "I Feel Bad Killing You" with its damaged protagonist, and Lester Dent's "Sail" shows what he could do when he wasn't writing Doc Savage yarns. I enjoy Raoul Whitfield's Jo Gar stories, while I don't think "The Magician Murder" is one of the better ones, I like the setting and the characters so well that I enjoyed it quite a bit. Merle Constiner's "The Arm of Mother Manzoli" has so much going on in it that it's certainly mystifying, if not entirely satisfying.
There are a couple of stories with masked protagonists. The Patent-Leather Kid is featured in Erle Stanley Gardner's "The Kid Clips a Coupon," and I was reminded of both Zorro and the Green Hornet. The Moon Man of "The Sinister Sphere" by Fredrick C. Davis has a unique mask, I have to admit, even though I didn't believe most of it for a minute.
Robert Bloch gives us a shudder pulp story in "Death Is a Vampire," and Fritz Leiber's "Power of the Puppets" is pretty much straight-out horror.
I got a kick out of the individual style of Robert Leslie Bellem in "Homicide Hunch," a Dan Turner story that has a roscoe sneezing Ka-Chow! You can't go wrong there. And Carroll John Daly's "Mr. Sinister" has Satan Hall, the hardest of the hard-boiled guys, or close to it. Mickey Spillane learned a lot from Satan Hall, I think.
I enjoyed all the rest of the stories, too. If you want to return to those thrilling days of men in fedoras, casual racism, cars with running boards, and lots of smoking, you can't go wrong with this anthology.
Table of Contents:
Sail / Lester Dent
The magician murder / Raoul Whitfield
Black / Paul Cain
The king in yellow / Raymond Chandler
Chains of darkness / Frederick Nebel
The arm of Mother Manzoli / Merle Constiner
Murder in the red / Norbert Davis
Brand of Kane / Hugh B. Cave
Two biers for Buster / William Campbell Gault
Blond cargo / Fred MacIsaac
Mr. Sinister / Carroll John Daly
The kid clips a coupon / Erle Stanley Gardner
Tarantula bait / Paul Chadwick
The sinister sphere / Fred C. Davis
The lady is a corpse! / John D. MacDonald
The lunatic plague / Donald Wandrei
Slack wires / Arthur J. Burks
Homicide hunch / Robert Leslie Bellem
Power of the puppets / Fritz Leiber
Death is a vampire / Robert Bloch
Death at the main / Frank Gruber
I feel bad killing you / Leigh Brackett
The case of the frozen corpses / Ray Cummings
Names in the black book / Robert E. Howard