Friday, January 16, 2015

FFB Review: "Masters Of Noir, Volume One"---Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Friday means Friday’s Forgotten Books. Barry is back today with his review of Masters Of Noir, Volume One.  After you read the review make sure you check out Patti’s blog and check out other possibilities…

MASTERS OF NOIR, Volume One (2010)

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

The first in a series of electronic collections of stories that—I’m guessing about this because original publication credits aren’t supplied—initially appeared in pulp magazines such as Manhunt and Pursuit from the 1950s, Masters of Noir features stories by authors who remain well-known today
and others who were notable in that era from their magazine and paperback original works.

The book opens with a police procedural by Jonathan Craig in which detectives Dave Emory and his partner Walt Nelson have a major conundrum to deal with. The young woman was killed in an apartment in the shabby rooming house, but about her it’s “Identity Unknown.” There’s nothing in the apartment or among her personal effects to tell them who she is. Until they can do that, they have no chance of finding her killer.

Wealthy and prominent almost beyond imagining from his investments, the recently deceased  Walter Harrison was a ruthless charmer who almost invariably got what he wanted. So what drove him to suicide? Chester Duncan, who had known him since their college days, came to despise  him with good reason but pretended to remain his friend. He relates to another friend, Inspector Early, how he engineered Harrison’s downfall once Harrison saw “The Girl Behind the Hedge.” This story by Mickey Spillane is utterly different in approach and tone from those in the hardboiled novels he’s famous for, and ends with a nifty little surprise twist.

Jeff MacCauley “sweated in the Tampico oil fields for more than three years, socking it away a little at a time,” but now a tinhorn crook named Carrera has stolen the ten thousand dollars MacCauley saved to finally get himself out of Mexico. Carrera has the money, but MacCauley has “Carrera’s Woman.” Or does she have him? Evan Hunter wrote under a number of pen names, the most famous, of course, being Ed McBain. This story is one he wrote as Richard Marsten.

The LAPD have dubbed the serial killer the “Butcher.” When private detective Shell Scott, after making a grisly discovery, learns that the victim is a young woman he knew, he does some investigating of his own with the approval of his friend, Homicide Captain Phil Samson, in one of Richard S. Prather’s darker stories.

The unnamed woman knows she’s beautiful, not only from her reflection in a mirror, but also “by the eyes of the hungry men, the eyes that she felt rather than saw upon her everywhere she went.” This evening she’s in a bar, waiting to see which of the three men whose eyes are upon her will make the move. Will it be Mr. Dark Suit, Mr. Baldy, or Mr. Bright-Eyes? And will he or she “Look Death in the Eye” in this Lawrence Block gem?

Dell Harper is a cantankerous, impatient, blustering, self-absorbed man, but he’s agreed to go on a picnic with his wife Julia and their three-year-old daughter Linda “On a Sunday Afternoon.” What none of them expects to contend with is a pack of juvenile delinquents in this taut tale by Gil Brewer.

In Frank Kane’s novelette that’s overloaded with cigarette lightings, poured drinks, and tugged lower lips, private detective Johnny Liddell has two gunshot deaths to contend with:  his client’s and his assigned operative’s. The operative, Tate Morrow, was on hand to bodyguard the client. The local homicide lieutenant investigating the case is sure Liddell is the guilty party, but Liddell knows it’s a “Frame” and sets out to prove it and bring the real killer to justice.

Maintaining objectivity while investigating John Ambler’s murder isn’t Detective Gus Taylor’s long suit. He’s certain Holly Laird is the guilty party, and behaving brutally toward her and her boyfriend is as natural as breathing for him. Why? Because Holly reminds him of Martha, the woman he loved who deserted him for another man. Holly, in fact, could be Martha’s “Double” in this novelette by Bruno Fischer.

If Grandfather would only die already, Tony Wren and his cousin Cindy would inherit the money to fulfill Cindy’s dream of  living the good life in Acapulco. But Grandfather remains healthy and active despite his age, so unless they want to wait for him to die of natural causes, there’s only one solution. They’re pretty certain they’ve gotten away with it until the phone rings and the apparently voyeuristic neighbor Evan Lane enters their lives in Fletcher Flora’s “As I Lie Dead.”

Although it’s arguable as to whether all of these stories actually fit traditional definitions of noir fiction—two feature  private eyes and one is a police procedural, all told from the viewpoints of their heroes—they should nevertheless satisfy fans of hard-edged, fast-moving tales. Definitely recommended.

© 2015 Barry Ergang

Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of it is available at Amazon and at Smashwords. His website is

1 comment:

George said...

MASTERS OF NOIR, VOL. 1 looks good. I'm going to order it now!