They finally did it. About a year or so ago, Centipede Press released the definitive collection of Paul Cain fiction--basically everything he ever wrote for Black Mask, etc. Paul Cain: The Complete Slayers collects every piece of fiction he published. Sticker price: $75. For some reason I didn't jump on it at the time, and now, since only 500 copies were printed, prices are between $140 and $200. I scored a copy for $140 on eBay. I have never paid that much for a book and, judging by the result of this one, I will never bother doing so again. But let me tell you the good stuff first.
The content is wonderful. It has the most extensive biographical information on Paul Cain than any other reference book I have come across, the reproduced magazine and book covers are terrific, the interior illustrations are amazing, and it's an absolute thrill to finally have all of these stories. I am a real Paul Cain junky. You can keep Hammett and Chandler and all those other guys. If I'm stuck on that desert
island, I want my Paul Cain books.
Not only do you get all of his short stories, but the book includes the original version of Fast One in its serial form. That's neat to see. Each story is connected, of course, but the opening of each installment includes background detail of what came before, and a few other extra lines, that were cut from the novel. (Now if I can only get the original stories that made up Red Harvest!) Cain changed a few names here and there but it's still the same fast-paced story that you either love or hate. I still say the only thing wrong with it is the ending, so I always stop reading where Grandquist says, "I forgot."
But for a book that was priced so high to begin with, and commands a premium now, you'd think the people involved in assembling the book (I'm looking at you, Keith Alan Deutsch--see comments below why I have omitted the other editors) could have hired a decent layout and copy editor. There are typos and extra words (the bio says Cain had "several two sons") as well as layout problems, where paragraphs don't quite line up and some lines of dialogue are on the same line. I paid how much for this? For such a handsome volume, with such pros with their names on the cover, it's sloppy, and disappointing.
But it is the mother lode. This is all the Paul Cain there ever was or ever will be. I will read every story very slowly. And then I'll read them again and again. They never get old. I read Fast One once a year!