Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner (The Black Mask Boys)

Created by William F. Nolan

“All that talent — and all that booze. A bad combination.”
Dashiell Hammett in The Black Mask MurdersTalk about resting in pieces.

Of course, William F. Nolan didn’t “create” Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or Erle Stanley Gardner. They all were very real people, legendary crime writers who all wrote for the equally legendary Black Mask pulp magazine.

But Nolan did create THE BLACK MASK BOYS, a fantasy wherein the hard-boiled crime legends are dragged into all sorts of fictional shenanigans and all kinds of mischief as amateur sleuths. The first book in the series, The Black Mask Murders (1994), appropiately enough features Hammett, who was a private detective in real life, as the principal detective-hero, with Chandler and Gardner acting as supporting players — their turns come in the subsequent books, Chandler in The Marble Orchard (1996), and Gardner in Sharks Never Sleep (1998), respectively.

There were also plenty of great setting for the books. The Black Mask Murders’s locales included New York City, San Francisco’s Chinatown, and southern California’s Big Bear Lake, The Marble Orchard gave us a tour of the Hearst castle, Venice, California and the Coronado Island hotel and Sharks Never Sleep took us to a Culver City MGM movie set, a Carmel health spa, a Baja fishing village, a Montecito estate, and (of course) a Beverly Hills courtroom.

Besides the Black Mask Boys themselves, several other notable personages from the 1930’s make cameos, including Scott Fitzgerald, Max Brand, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, William Randolph Hearst , Mae West, Walter Winchell, Shirley Temple, Hedda Hopper, John Barrymore and even Barney Oldfield.

Of course, the easy-going camaraderie of the three, a highlight of the books, was completely fictitious (did Chandler ever like anyone?), and the books are, ironically, a far cry from the hard-boiled prose in which the three authors specialized. Still, for real fans of the genre, these are a hoot.

A large part of that is due to the enthusiasm of William Nolan, a true fan. A private eye writer of note himself, having created Southern California gumshoe Bart Challis and wonked out sci-fi eye Sam Space, he’s also something of a pulp scholar, having penned a couple of absolutely essential Hammett biographies, Dashiell Hammett: A Casebook and Dashiell Hammett: A Life at the Edge, not to mention having written the sci-fi classic Logan’s Run. And then of course there’s the stone cold classic anthology, also entitled The Black Mask Boys (1985)–a loving Valentine to the seminal pulp, the editing and research of which no doubt inspired the later fictional trilogy.

UNDER OATH

  • “The premise may ultimately wear thin, but for now, it’s perfectly good fun for the hard-boiled crowd.”
    — Wes Lukowsky, Booklist

NOVELS

RELATED LINKS

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with additional info from David Nobriga. And thanks, Alberta.

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