Thu 6 Apr 2017
by Newell Dunlap & Bill Pronzini
JACK BOYLE – Boston Blackie. Gregg Press, hardcover, 1979. Reprint of the first edition published by H. K. Fly, hardcover, 1919.
This is an unusual book in that it consists of previously published short stories put together and revised slightly to resemble chapters in a novel. It is the only Boston Blackie “novel” or collection to be published.
The Boston Blackie stories began running in The American Magazine in 1914; later ones appeared in Red Book and Cosmopolitan. Although by today’s standards they contain overly dramatic language and sentimental plots, they still provide an entertaining insight into popular American fiction of the early 1900s.
Included in this reprint edition is a scholarly introduction by Edward D. Hoch, the original illustrations, and still photographs from some of the various Boston Blackie films.
For those unfamiliar with Boyle’s Boston Blackie, he was a criminal — primarily a safecracker — and was wanted by many police departments. But he was also a devoted husband, a “university graduate, a scholar, and gentleman.” The first half of his nickname derived from his Boston birthplace, the second half from his piercing black eyes.
As interesting as Blackie himself may be, his creator is even more so. Jack Boyle was a San Francisco newspaper editor who became addicted to opium in the legendary dens of Chinatown. This cost him his job, and, unable to get another, he turned to a fife of crime — an unsuccessful one, for he was twice arrested and sent to prison, once for forgery and the second time for armed robbery.
It was while he was in San Quentin on the robbery conviction that he wrote (and sold) his first Boston Blackie story to American, under the pseudonym “6606” — his prison number. Many of the subsequent Blackie stories were to employ drug and prison backgrounds. After his release, Boyle continued his writing career and helped adapt some of his stories for silent films.
Several Blackie silents were made in the 1920s; the first of these, for which Boyle wrote the screenplay, was The Face in the Fog (1922) and featured Lionel Barrymore as Blackie. The character underwent a considerable transformation in the series of B-talkies that began in 1941 and starred Chester Morris: He became a wise-talking reformed-crook-turned-sleuth with a penchant for dames, danger, and sudden death. The Hollywood incarnation also appeared on the radio and briefly on television in its early years.
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.