Thursday, August 20, 2020

Classic Hardboiled Pulp: Dead Evidence: The Complete BLACK MASK Cases of Harrigan - Ed Lybeck

Ed Lybeck’s name was vaguely familiar to me, and when I read Will Murray’s excellent introduction to this collection of Lybeck’s stories published in BLACK MASK, I realized why: Joseph T. Shaw included one of Lybeck’s stories in the iconic anthology THE HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS, which I read about fifty years ago. I have no memory of Lybeck’s story in that book, however, and after rereading it in this one, I still have no memory of it from back then. Which proves nothing except that I didn’t always recognize greatness when I came across it, because these yarns are absolutely fantastic.

Lybeck had only four stories published in BLACK MASK, all of them novella or novelette length, and they all feature the same protagonist, tough guy reporter Francis St. Xavier Harrigan, who covers the crime beat for the New York Leader and who, Lybeck implies, was once a crook and a gunman himself. Lybeck doesn’t seem sure whether abandoning gangdom for journalism is a step up or down for Harrigan.

In the first story, “Leaded Ink” (BLACK MASK, December 1931), Harrigan goes after the mobsters who murdered a young reporter who was his protégé. The second story, “Kick-Back” (January 1932) finds him clashing with a corrupt politician running on a reform ticket and the gangster backing the politician. This is the story that appeared in THE HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS. “Dead Evidence” (March 1932) is a direct sequel to “Kick-Back”, with Harrigan framed for a killing and fighting to clear his name. The final Harrigan story, “Silent Heat”, didn’t appear until February 1934. In this one, Harrigan takes on a white slavery ring.

These are all action yarns and don’t have much actual detection in them, but as fast-moving tales of crime-busting, they’re some of the best I’ve ever read. Lybeck’s style is a joy to read, a mixture of tough violence, snappy patter, and unexpectedly breezy humor. I laughed out loud a number of times reading these stories. Harrigan’s a great character, able to absorb a tremendous amount of punishment and still keep slugging away at his enemies. I probably never would have been able to read these stories if Steeger Books hadn’t reprinted them in the new Black Mask line, so I really appreciate the opportunity. Based on only four stories, you can’t put Lybeck in the same rank as Hammett, Chandler, Nebel, and the other giants from BLACK MASK, but he was mighty good anyway and I had a great time reading this collection. If you love hardboiled pulp like I do, it gets my highest recommendation.


David Cranmer said...

Right up my hardboiled heart's dark alley. Will read asap. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Well, this certainly makes me feel fine about the fact that I ordered this book, along with almost all of the rest of Steeger’s new Black Mask collections, and the lot of them are supposed to show up at my door shortly.

First all those Dime Detective collections and now this Black Mask bounty. Man, this is a great time to be a fan of hard boiled pulp fiction.

John Hocking

Walker Martin said...

At the same time Steeger Books also released excellent collections from Black Mask by Robert Reeves, Merle Constiner, D.L. Champion, and others. As a collector of Black Mask I recommend them all. This is the Golden Age of Pulp Reprints.

Rodger Samuel said...

Ordered it!