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Black Mask

Black Mask, Dime Mystery, Spicy Detective

American pulp magazine, specializing in hardboiled detective fiction. Originally founded (and later repudiated) by H. L. Mencken in 1920, Black Mask was at its peak under the editorship of Captain Joseph T. Shaw from 1920 to 1936. Between eye-catchingly lurid covers, the magazine offered unadorned, briskly told violent stories, introducing the highly influential character of the world-weary private eye, the ‘hardboiled dick’. The first of these was ‘Race Williams’, invented by the prolific Carroll John Daly (18891958), but more importantly, Shaw encouraged a team of writers, including more prominent figures like Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the ‘Perry Mason’ courtroom books, and so helped establish a tough and frank indigenous American style of crime writing, in opposition to the cosier British traditions. Although there were a number of magazines of this kind, like Dime Mystery and Spicy Detective, now long forgotten, Black Mask is best remembered as the journal which published the first story by Raymond Chandler—‘Blackmailers Don't Shoot’ (1933)—and which introduced the remarkable talent of Dashiell Hammett, whose ‘Continental Op’ stories appeared regularly in the early 1930s. Although Shaw had no pretensions to literary esteem, his firm editorship helped disseminate a lean, fast-moving prose style and set influential terms of reference for more serious later writers.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Bible in English to [Thomas] Edward Bond Biography