Sunday, March 23, 2008

The pleasures of anthologies, or What are your favorite crime-fiction collections?

I recently read the following rave about Michael Gilbert:

"A critic once remarked that Maugham's Ashenden is the finest collection of espionage fiction ever written. That critic is wrong. The honor goes to Michael Gilbert's Game Without Rules, and to its twelve-story sequel, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens."

Since the source of that encomium is Joe Gores, author of the estimable D.K.A. Files stories, I said to myself: "Wow! I've got to look for this Gilbert guy."

Imagine my surprise when I found Gilbert in my kitchen two days later, in a 1997 anthology called Detective Duos. I can do no better than to cite a passage that Gores quoted:

"Mr. Behrens said, raising his voice a little, `If I were to lift my right hand a very well-trained dog, who has been approaching you quietly from the rear while we were talking, would have jumped for your throat.'

"The colonel smiled. `Your imagination does you credit. What happens if you lift your left hand? Does a genie appear from a bottle and carry me off?'

"`If I raise my left hand,' said Mr. Behrens, `you will be shot dead.'

"And so saying, he raised it."
A few weeks earlier, I'd been flipping through Hugh Greene's 1971 collection, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. That volume contains some of the usual suspects among late-19th- and early-20th-century detective writers not named Conan Doyle, notably R. Austin Freeman and Baroness Orczy. It also includes two stories by Arthur Morrison, of whom I'd not heard and of whom Greene justly remarks that the oblivion into which he fell was undeserved.

Morrison, whose two stories in the collection appeared originally in 1895 and 1897, wrote with an understatement uncharacteristic of the period, even when the stories involved such Gothic details as characters locked in basements. The understatement is probably why his writing feels so fresh, particularly in "The Case of Laker, Absconded."

What a pleasure to discover these writers I might not have found if not for anthologies, and anthologies I might not have discovered if I'd not found them in a secondhand bookshop. All praise to used bookstores!

And now, readers, what are your favorite crime-fiction anthologies, no matter where you found them?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember that book, Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (and its sequels) which I bought when they were originally published, when young (yes, even I was young once). Ah, happy days!

March 23, 2008  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I think you should post a warning that reading your blog is likely to damage your bank balance.
You always seem to come up with posts about books that are interesting and essential.

As far as anthologies the latest Crimini Italian Crime Fiction is very good and the Simenon short stories, not all were Maigrets, were brought out as omnibus paperback editions.

March 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxine, it appears that Rivals of Sherlock Holmes also became a television series. That could be interesting viewing, but I wonder what the producers would do with someone like Arthur Morrison, so much of whose interest lies in the crispness of his prose.

You could reread the books to good end -- other than mere nostalgia, I mean. I read another worthwhile story from the collection last night, which could lead to another post here.

March 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah, the warning would be that in today's economic climate, anthologies are easy on the bank balance, a combination of thrift and thrills that can't be beat.

Thanks for the heads up in the Simenon stories. I've read one called, I thank, Inspector Maigret's Pipe, and I believe there is a collection of Maigret Christmas stories as well. I also like the recent The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.

March 23, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I own this one, 23 stories from Dime Detective magazine.

I acquired it in a rather memorable way.

March 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That was one hostess who knew her guests, I'd say.

That anthology has some of the same names as the Black Lizard book, though not as many. (I suspect few collections can contain as many stories as the Black Lizard book, weighing in as it does at more than a thousand pages.) The Dime Detective collection appears to start a bit later and extend a bit later, from the 1930s to the 1950s, whereas the Black Lizard collection contains stories that originally appeared from the late 1920s through the 1940s.

It's good to see that your book contains stories from Frederick Nebel and Norbert Davis. I've always liked Davis' stories, and Nebel was one of my big discoveries in the Black Lizard book.

March 24, 2008  

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