Audiobook Review: Black Mask 1: Doors in the Dark

Doors in the Dark gives is the first of several audiobooks that provide material that first appeared in Black Mask Magazine, perhaps the best known of the crime magazine pulps.

The collection begins with Keith Alen Deutsch’s history of Black Mask. It’s a great listen for fans of classic crime fiction, though skippable if you just want the story.

“Come and Get It,” is written by Erle Stanley Gardener, who’d become a mystery legend for writing Perry Mason. This story features Ed Jenkins, the Phantom Crook. This story is a self-contained short novel but in a series of novels involving the Phantom Crook’s battle with a crime syndicate who is trying to hurt a girl that Jenkins likes. Jenkins has some of the cleverness and cunning that would later be seen in characters like Leslie Charteris’ the Saint. However, he’s also a bit of a throwback to the “Crook with a Heart of Gold” character that was popular in the 1920s, and his sharp self-definition of himself as a “crook” is a dominant. Overall, this story is decent.

“Arson Plus” was originally published by Dashiell Hammett under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson. It’s the first story featuring Hammett’s Continental Op. It’s a quick moving arson case with a very clever solution.

“The Fall Guy” was written by George Harrison Coxe and features Flash Casey, the great crime photographer. Having listened to many episodes of the radio show, “Casey, Crime Photographer,” I found this to be a bit of a treat. The story itself is competent, but not “flashy” with typical noir characters.

“Doors in the Dark,” by Frederick Nebel features Captain Steve McBride investigating the apparent suicide of a friend, but he believes it’s murder. This story is from the series on which the Torchy Blane film series was based, though the series doesn’t feature Torchy with McBride being the hero. Still, there are some madcap/screwball moments in this story that set the tone for the Torchy Blane series.

“Lucky” by Doc Savage creator Lester Dent is one of the few stories featuring his crime solving Ship’s Captain/Insurance Oscar Sail. This story is fast paced and with a bit more violence than any other tale in the collection. Still, quite enjoyable with some clever twists.

Overall, I enjoyed this audiobook, but it’s one of those releases that fall under, “You will like if you like that sort of thing.” One negative review criticized the stories for having the same quality as old time radio. As someone who loves old time radio mysteries, I consider that a positive. The pulp genre is not high literature but much of it is still entertaining in its own way.

Ultimately, this audiobook offers talented narration of a good history of pulp fiction along with five classic pulp stories including a Flash Casey story and tales by the creators of Doc Savage, Perry Mason, and Sam Spade. If that sounds up your alley, then this is definitely an audiobook to pick up.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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