Sun 27 Nov 2011
ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – Dead Men’s Letters. Carroll & Graf, hardcover, March 1990; softcover, July 1991.
A collection of six Black Mask novelettes featuring one of Gardner’s early series characters, Ed Jenkins, known as the “Phantom Crook.”
Jenkins, though wanted in six states, cannot be extradited from California due to a legal technicality and this makes him a target of Police anxious to send him to Jail and other criminals who know that if they commit a crime with Jenkins in the area, he will get the blame.
The last three stories in the collection detail Jenkins’ duel with the crime boss of a California city and are sequels to “Laugh That Off,” the best story in the set. They center around Jenkins’ efforts to retrieve papers that would incriminate the dead father of a woman whom Jenkins loves but is unworthy of, which reminded me of an earlier “crook,” Hamilton Cleek, and his relationship with the woman he fell for.
As with most Gardner, Characterization and Dialogue are second-rate at best, but his deft way of turning a plot keeps one reading anyway.
One thing: I read someplace that Gardner first made his reputation as a Lawyer by championing the Chinese community, yet quite often here, he passes casually racist remarks towards Asians. Which raises the question, did a Black Mask writer, in order to be considered “hard boiled” have to espouse racist views?
Presumably, these sentiments couldn’t really be Gardner’s own. Or could they?
Dead Man’s Letters. Black Mask, December 1926.
Laugh That Off. Black Mask, September 1926.
The Cat-Woman. Black Mask, February 1927.
This Way Out. Black Mask, March 1927.
Come and Get It. Black Mask, April 1927.
In Full of Account. Black Mask, May 1927.