My Bookshelf: The Hard-Boiled Omnibus by Joseph T. “Cap” Shaw

My Bookshelf

The Hard-Boiled Omnibus: Early Stories from Black Mask, edited by Joseph T. “Cap” Shaw


Is there a more pivotal collection of stories from Black Mask than The Hard-Boiled Omnibus? Published by Simon and Schuster in 1946, this almost mythical hardcover featured fifteen stories selected by editor  Joseph T. “Cap” Shaw (1874-1952), who had also served as the editor of the legendary pulp from 1926 to 1936. Founded in 1920 by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, the magazine initially published everything from romance to western stories, but soon focussed on — and is fondly remembered and rightfully celebrated today —  for its detective fiction, and the gang of hard-boiled writers who graced its pages, including Carroll John Daly, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Raymond Chandler, George Harmon Coxe, Raoul Whitfield, Paul Cain, Roger Torrey, Norbert Davis and more, all masters of the fast-paced, cynical, tough but (sometimes) tender crime yarns. 

This one featured stories from many of them… although the omission of Daly and Gardner, two of the most popular writers in the Black Mask stable, is still glaring. Were there rights issues or arguments about money, or did Shaw (or Simon & Schuster) just not think enough of them as writers to include them in the book? But it turns out that Gardner, at least, didn’t think much of his earlier work, and didn’t want to be included.

A 1952 paperback edition followed, but the order was changed, and several stories were dropped. You want the real deal, get the hard cover.

I’ve been wanting a copy for probably twenty-five years. But it can be pricey (I’ve seen it for over $200, lacking a dust jacket and in dubious condition). My copy (pictured above) only set me back $30 in 2019 and it’s a beauty. The penny pincher in me screamed, but I can live with it. I’m not really a collector; I’m more of a hoarder with intent, but I’d call that a bargain — the best I ever had.

There have since been other collections, most notably The Hard-Boiled Detective: Stories from Black Mask Magazine, 1920–1951, edited by Herbert Ruhm (1977), The Black Mask Boys: Masters in the Hard-Boiled School of Detective Fiction, edited by William F. Nolan (1985), and the massive The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, edited by Otto Penzler  in 2007, but none can match The Hard-Boiled Omnibus for influence or historical importance.

* * * * *

Shaw, Joseph T., editor.
Simon & Shuster, 1946.
The first anthology to ever attempt to cover the genre. A sampling of a dozen classic pulp stories from Black Mask, chosen by the magazine’s best and most influential author, Cap Shaw himself. Includes seminal stories from Lester Dent, Ramon Decolta , Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Raoul Whitfield, Norbert Davis, Paul Cain, Roger Torrey, George Harmon Coxe and others.

  • TABLE OF CONTENTS (1946 edition)
  • Introduction by Joseph T. Shaw
  • “The Devil Suit,” by J.J. Des Ormeaux (Forrest Rosaire) (not included in paperback edition)
  • “Taking His Time“ by Reuben Jennings Shay
  • “Fly Paper” by Dashiell Hammett (The Continental Op)
  • “Death in the Pasig ” by Ramon Decolta (Jo Gar)
  • “The Man Who Liked Dogs” by Raymond Chandler (Carmady)
  • “Red Goose” by Norbert Davis
  • “Murder Mixup,” by George Harmon Coxe (Flashgun Casey; not included in paperback edition)
  • “Red 71” by Paul Cain
  • “Inside Job” by Raoul Whitfield
  • “Sail” by Lester Dent (Oscar Sail)
  • “Sister Act,” by Charles G. Booth (“Handsome” Blair; not included in paperback edition)
  • “Best Man,” by Thomas Walsh
  • “Kick-Back,” by Ed Lybeck (Harrigan)
  • “Clean Sweep,” by Roger Torrey
  • “South Wind,” by Theodore Tinsley


  • Black Mask could pick ’em in the thirties. Of these fifteen novelette stories, at least eleven appear masterly even to a non-afficiando such as I. Action takes the place of detection and there’s more blood than you can shake a stick at. There’s also some very effective writing.”
    Lenore Glen Offord (November 24, 1946, San Francisco Chronicle)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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