Monday, August 23, 2010

Encore Review: Six Deadly Dames by Frederick Nebel

Frederick Nebel has never received the credit due him. He was one of the major contributors to Black Mask during the glory years under editor “Cap” Shaw. Between 1926 and 1951 he contributed more than 50 stories to the magazine. His writing was lean, hard and unsentimental, making him one of Shaw’s favorites.

It’s a shame so little of his work has been reprinted. Six Deadly Dames, published by Avon in 1950, is one of only two collections of his short stories.  The other, The Adventures of Cardigan, featuring a very similar character, was issued by Mysterious Press in 1988. In 2008 The Big Book of Pulps scored a major coup by including a novel-length sequence of the first five stories in Nebel’s other major Black Mask series, featuring Kennedy (the reporter) & MacBride (the police captain).

Six Deadly Dames contains 6 of the 15 Donahue stories. (The page below is from one of those still uncollected, from Black Mask Sept, 1932.)  Like the Continental Op, Donahue is an operative for an interstate detective agency. Like Sam Spade, he's slightly tarnished, brutal when he has to be, and twists the law when necessary. The Cardigan book also collected 6 stories, these originally from Dime Detective, but 37 more are wasting away, as are over 30 Kennedy & MacBride stories.

Corresponding with Mrs. Nebel some years back, I asked if her husband had made an effort to get his stories published in books - particularly the first five Kennedy & MacBride tales, which seemed designed for just that purpose. She said he didn’t think much of his pulp work. He considered it dated and didn’t believe it merited collection. What he really wanted was to be a novelist, not a crime writer. To this end he produced three books, Sleepers East, But Not the End, and Fifty Roads to Town, all well received but today even more forgotten than Six Deadly Dames.

Another “Tough Dick” Donahue collection is long overdue. But it arrives, Six Deadly Dames will do. It’s a gem.


A said...

Looks like a great read. Too bad it's difficult to get a hold of his material.

Walker Martin said...

It just shows how an author can be so mistaken about the quality of his own work. Nebel really thought that his slick work and novels were his best fiction. However time has proved that readers prefer his pulp stories, especially the Cardigan, Donahue, and Kennedy & McBride series.

Stephen Mertz had an article in The Armchair Detective back in Summer 1979. He found that Nebel and Gardner both refused to allow Joe Shaw to reprint their early work in THE HARD BOILED OMNIBUS. He quotes Nebel in a letter to Shaw in December 1945, "The reason I don't want to see my old BLACK MASK stuff between boards is because I think it served its purpose well when it was first published, but I honestly cannot see what purpose it would serve now. These times have moved fast. The stories seem now to be dated."

His slick work is definitely dated and now forgotten, but there is still alot of interest in his pulp fiction. Hopefully someday we will see a another collection.

Deka Black said...

"It just shows how an author can be so mistaken about the quality of his own work."--> very true. With capital T

The work of a given author, until certain point, belongs to his readers. And them are the only ones can say "this is good, and this not". Or with more accuracy, "This is what i like, and this not".

But i must be honest: I can not be objective: I love pulps, love short stories, and think pulps are a very, very underrated form of fiction with a capital importance in literary history.

David Cranmer said...

I've read many Nebel stories and agree his body of work deserves more attention. Good post.

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