The Big Book of Rogues and Villains

Edgar Award-winning editor Otto Penzler’s new anthology brings together the most cunning, ruthless, and brilliant criminals in mystery fiction, for the biggest compendium of bad guys (and girls) ever assembled.

The best mysteries–whether detective, historical, police procedural, cozy, or comedy–have one thing in common: a memorable perpetrator. For every Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade in noble pursuit, there’s a Count Dracula, a Lester Leith, or a Jimmy Valentine.

These are the rogues and villains who haunt our imaginations–and who often have more in common with their heroic counterparts than we might expect. Now, for the first time ever, Otto Penzler gathers the iconic traitors, thieves, con men, sociopaths, and killers who have crept through the mystery canon over the past 150 years, captivating and horrifying readers in equal measure. The 72 handpicked stories in this collection introduce us to the most depraved of psyches, from iconic antiheroes like Maurice

Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin and Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu to contemporary delinquents like Lawrence Block’s Ehrengraf and Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder, and include unforgettable tales by Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Washington Irving, Jack London, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, O. Henry, Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, Erle Stanley Gardner, Edward D. Hoch, Max Allan Collins, Loren D. Estleman, and many more.



I’m a big fan of short story collections because they allow you to read small pieces at a time and get a wide variety of material. I am also a fan of the Mystery genre and how it has evolved from way back in the day when women were still property through now when our voices are now rivaling those of the male gender. Penzler provides an opportunity to look at some of Literature’s Big Bads’ in more than 70 stories that examine the depravity humanity offers to counter its heroes. Be they skilled in murder, theft, lies, disloyalty or just not quite right in the head, all of them have graced the pages for over a century to entertain and enrapture readers. After all, who would Sherlock be without Moriarty?

As the title of the book suggests he looks at Rogues and Villains by offering up a way to distinguish the two based on the level of ‘bad’ that can be attributed to their crimes and mentality; not all sin is created equal. Each offering is a fairly decent length so you feel as if you are making good use of your time with these delectable forays into the negative aspect of human conscience.

I only found 3 negatives.

The first is in the presentation. The purpose of you reading this book will dictate how you go about acquiring it. Are you looking to read from page one straight through or have something that will allow you to use it more as a research tool to skip around to the parts that hold the most interest for you? I often detest when authors break up their work in multiple volumes because more often than not it feels like they are fleecing readers out of money by forcing them to buy more instead of condensing. Putting everything into one book instead of multiples would save on printing costs and passing those savings onto the consumer would be a positive. This is probably the first time ever I would argue the opposite.

It’s a massive piece of work whether you go print or digital. In print you need two hands and several pillows to help balance and take the pressure off your arms. It’s nearly 1000 pages and printed in a double column magazine style so you’ll be popping ibuprofen to deal with eye strain every 30 minutes or so. Don’t forget the heating pad for your aching joints. In digital you have no issues with weight and thankfully get the normal full page so no eye strain. However you also don’t get the ease of access to flipping to specific stories like you do with paper and if you only want to read about specific baddies having to go back and forth between the TOC and the chapter is not so much fun. This was an incredible work but would have been better served in a series of 3 volumes minimum.

Penzler includes more than just a focus on literature’s dark side, he also helps you delve into their creators and lets you see how crime and its effect on novels has changed from The Victorian Age through Modern time periods. His stories are arranged across categories that reflect the time period in which they were written.

The second negative concerns the availability of Modern era stories. There were very few and considering the breadth of what could be chosen having 3 from the same author, even if it’s an author I like, was a letdown.

The third negative again deals with variety of authors in that around 5% of the over 70 stories chosen were by a female author. It seems hard to believe that in the 150 years’ worth of mysteries he couldn’t find more female voices to add to this collection particularly since he often used multiple works by the same male author – why couldn’t he have just used 1 and given that space to a different voice.

There were quite a few names I recognized in this work but there were also quite a few I had never heard of which made it fun to expand my knowledge base, see how the same crime could be represented differently depending on POV or time period and examine the duality of good versus bad as it pertains to literature.

Curious about the stories included in this anthology? Check out the Table of contents:

THE VICTORIANS

At the Edge of the Crater by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace

The Episode of the Mexican Seer by Grant Allen

The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker

The Narrative of Mr. James Rigby by Arthur Morrison

The Ides of March by E. W. Hornung

 

19TH CENTURY AMERICANS

The Story of a Young Robber by Washington Irving

Moon-Face by Jack London

The Shadow of Quong Lung by C. W. Doyle

 

THE EDWARDIANS

The Fire of London by Arnold Bennett

Madame Sara by L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace

The Affair of the Man Who Called Himself Hamilton Cleek by Thomas W. Hanshew

The Mysterious Railway Passenger by Maurice Leblan

An Unposted Letter by Newton MacTavish

The Adventure of “The Brain” by Bertram Atkey

The Kailyard Novel by Clifford Ashdown

The Parole of Gevil-Hay by K. & Hesketh Prichard

The Hammerspond Park Burglary by H. G. Wells

The Zayat Kiss by Sax Rohmer

 

EARLY 20TH CENTURY AMERICANS

The Infallible Godahl by Frederick Irving Anderson

The Caballero’s Way by O. Henry

Conscience in Art by O. Henry

The Unpublishable Memoirs by A. S. W. Rosenbach

The Universal Covered Carpet Tack Company by George Randolph Chester

Boston Blackie’s Code by Jack Boyle

The Gray Seal by Frank L. Packard

The Dignity of Honest Labor by Percival Pollard

The Eyes of the Countess Gerda by May Edginton

The Willow Walk by Sinclair Lewis

A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry

 

BETWEEN THE WORLD WARS

The Burglar by John Russell

Portrait of a Murderer by Q. Patrick

Karmesin and the Big Flea by Gerald Kersh

The Very Raffles-Like Episode of Castor and Pollux, Diamonds De Luxe by Harry Stephen Keeler

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

Four Square Jane by Edgar Wallace

A Fortune in Tin by Edgar Wallace

The Genuine Old Master by David Durham

The Colonel Gives a Party by Everett Rhodes Castle

Footsteps of Fear by Vincent Starrett

The Signed Masterpieces by Frederick Irving Anderson

The Hands of Mr. Ottermole by Thomas Burke

“His Lady” to the Rescue by Bruce Graeme

On Getting an Introduction by Edgar Wallace

The 15 Murderers by Ben Hecht

The Damsel in Distress by Leslie Charteris

 

THE PULP ERA

After-Dinner Story by William Irish

The Mystery of the Golden Skull by Donald E. Keyhoe

We Are All Dead by Bruno Fischer

Horror Insured by Paul Ernst

A Shock for the Countess by C. S. Montanye

A Shabby Millionaire by Christopher B. Booth

Crimson Shackles by Frederick C. Davis

The Adventure of the Voodoo Moon by Eugene Thomas

The Copper Bowl by George Fielding Eliot

 

POST-WORLD WAR 2

The Cat-Woman by Erle Stanley Gardner

The Kid Stacks a Deck by Erle Stanley Gardner

The Theft from the Empty Room by Edward D. Hoch

The Shill by Stephen Marlowe

The Dr. Sherrock Commission by Frank McAuliffe

In Round Figures by Erle Stanley Gardner

The Racket Buster by Erle Stanley Gardner

Sweet Music by Robert L. Fish

 

THE MODERNS

The Ehrengraf Experience by Lawrence Block

Quarry’s Luck by Max Allan Collins

The Partnership by David Morrell

Blackburn Sins by Bradley Denton

The Black Spot by Loren D. Estleman

Car Trouble by Jas A. Petrin

Keller on the Spot by Lawrence Block

Boudin Noir by R. T. Lawton

Like a Thief in the Night by Lawrence Block

Too Many Crooks by Donald E. Westlake

Thank you to Netgalley and Knopf Doubleday for allowing me to review this!

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