Friday, February 27, 2015

FFB Review: "MASTERS OF NOIR, Volume Two" --- Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Friday means Friday’s Forgotten Books hosted by Patti Abbott. As far as I know as I set this up to run, later today Patti will have the links on her blog. If not, she will have the designated collector named and where to go. Barry is back this week with his review of the second volume of Masters Of Noir. You can read his review of the first volume from mid January for FFB here.

MASTERS OF NOIR, Volume Two (2010)

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

The second volume in an e-book series from Wonder Audiobooks, I can only surmise, based on the names of the authors represented, that the stories included were culled from old pulp digests such as Manhunt, Pursuit, Verdict, and perhaps others originally put out by Flying Eagle Publications. No actual original publication credits are supplied.

Please note that despite the publisher’s name, this is not an audio book. The stories and their authors are as follows:--

Vacationing in Acapulco, Jim Withers wonders about his wife Kathy and Juan, a waiter at their hotel. Is Jim’s jealousy without foundation, or are his “Green Eyes” justified? Hal Ellson does an excellent job of building the tension to an edgy climax.

After an initial meeting with singer Mona Varden in the night club in which she performs, private detective Johnny Liddell agrees to meet with her at her apartment at 3 a.m. But he’s barely left the club when he’s taken for a ride by a couple of goons. Matters get nastier from that point on—matters that involve murder and a “Big Steal” in a story by Frank Kane most experienced readers will have solved long before it ends.

His is an elegant, subdued cocktail lounge/restaurant in the Times Square area, one he’s owned for twenty years. In that time he has come to know how to read people, how to cater to the right sort and how, without a fuss, to persuade undesirables to leave. So handling the wild-eyed man in the old Army field jacket ought to be easy, right? Not before the man starts a “Necktie Party” in Robert Turner’s absorbing tale.

“The Purple Collar” does not refer to an article of apparel. In Jonathan Craig’s police procedural, the sub-genre that was his specialty, first-person narrator NYPD detective Pete, whose surname we aren’t given, and his partner Ben Muller methodically investigate a death to determine whether it was suicide or murder. The story moves along decently, but it’s well below the Ed McBain 87th Precinct level.

Not quite seventeen yet, George Burton broodingly worships the nearly two-years-older Lynette McCaffrey—mainly from afar. When she promises him a dance at the weekly Yacht Club dance, then has to postpone it until the following week, he tries to take it in stride. But his romantic nature takes over with dramatic adolescent morbidity, and telling himself “I Don’t Fool Around,” he takes drastic actions in Charles Jackson’s story.

You know how it is, guys like to kid. And Marty, who sells newspapers at the station, is ripe for kidding, so the taxi drivers and pool hall habitués kid him constantly, sometimes making him angry. But they’re basically a “Nice Bunch of Guys,” as Michael Fessier titles them, who mean no harm, so they can’t possibly be responsible for the things Marty does after some good-natured needling, can they?

When Mr. Algernon Petty gets himself into a monetary jam with his employer, he consults John J. Malone, leaving with the lawyer a sealed envelope to deliver to one Carmelita Maguire. Not long afterward, Petty’s murdered in an apparent robbery at the plant where he works. When Benson retains Malone, things become more complicated, one of the lovelier complications being Serena Gates, whom Malone gifts with “Flowers to the Fair.The story is attributed to Craig Rice. As I did for my review of The Best from Manhunt, I consulted Rice’s biographer Jeffrey Marks, who suspects that this particular story is another that was written by someone else. It’s not a bad story by any means, and even has a little of the trademark Rice humor, but it probably did not spring from the brow of Malone’s creator.

Cheap wine and booze brings Skid Row bums Jack (“Nobody ever gives their right names on Skid Row and that was what they called me when they called me anything”) Doc Trevor, and the four-legged Pasteur together in David Alexander’s “Die Like a Dog.” Any reader who has or has ever had a beloved canine friend—and I’m one of those—is likely to find this story one of or the most powerful in the collection.

The very attractive Grace Denney hires lawyer Scott Jordan to find out what’s going on with her estranged Aunt Paula, who is in a nursing home, after private detective Lester Britt has let her down. Soon it’s time to “Build Another Coffin” because the case turns murderous. It’s been many years since I’ve read one of the late Harold Q. Masur’s Scott Jordan novels or short stories, so this one was a genuine treat. Masur had a lively, literate style. In his earliest cases, Perry Mason was attitudinally and verbally hardboiled, but never physically so. Jordan is easily as tough-minded, but he can also handle himself physically, the story under consideration being a good example.

 “I’m afraid to go home tonight,” Enos Mavery says, because “Somebody’s Going to Die,” after which he launches into the story of how he met his wife Doreen, how he’s come to embezzle money from a successful and growing business, how he’s resolved that issue with his partner, and what the unforeseeable but ultimately frightening consequences of his actions might be in the concluding story by reliably solid storyteller Talmage Powell.

Crime and mystery fans who enjoy short fiction will probably enjoy this collection. The stories are well-paced and well-told, and offer a nice variety. It’s an easy anthology to recommend. And for me, it’s on to Volume Three.

© 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

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