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I thought I’d like to take a look at the detective pulps this time around, but, Jesus, there’s a million of them. To narrow the focus, I decided to concentrate on the granddaddy of them all, THE BLACK MASK, which for some reason in the early 1940s lost its “The” and simply became BLACK MASK. MASK was the cradle of the hard boiled school of writing, but at its inception wasn’t even entirely a detective magazine.

THE BLACK MASK was launched in 1920 by H. L. Mencken to support the prestigious literary magazine, THE SMART SET, that he was editing and which was hemorrhaging money. The new magazine’s stories were “adventure, mystery, detective, romance, love, and the occult.” Published by a number of owners and employing a number of editors over the years, the magazine lasted from 1920-1951, though it’s sales peak was in the early 1930s.

Perhaps it’s most popular writer in the early days was Carroll John Daly, who, it’s been said, invented the hard boiled detective story was his tale “The False Burton Combs,” in 1922. Among his most popular series characters were the inimitable Race Williams (“I never bumped off a guy what didn’t need it.”), Satan Hall, and the Flame, a female hard boiled dick.

Daly may have invented the sub-genre, but the great Dashiell Hammett, who actually was a Pinkerton for a number of years, perfected it. Hammett’s first story in BLACK MASK appeared in late 1922. THE MALTESE FALCON, with the unsurpassed Sam Spade, appeared as a serial in 1929. In those eight years Hammett had fifty stories in BLACK MASK.

Many writers followed the trail that Daly and Hammett blazed, though the last one I’ll mention here is Raymond Chandler. He first appeared in BLACK MASK (at the age of 45) with the story “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” in December 1933. He cannibalized his first few MASK stories, changing the name of the detective to Phillip Marlowe, for his novel THE BIG SLEEP. Humphrey Bogart, of course, played both Spade (THE MALTESE FALCON) and Marlowe (THE BIG SLEEP) in two of the finest detective movies ever made. Both, like almost all of Hammett’s and Chandler fiction, are highly recommended.

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