William F. Nolan. The Black Mask Murders (1994) 214 pp.
Everyone wants the jewel encrusted cat skull even though it has been knocking around for centuries, and carries a deadly curse for those who possess it. The editor of The Black Mask pulp magazine has it until he gets a note that his recently rediscovered daughter’s life depends on his turning it over to the kidnapper who has her and who killed her movie star mother. Dashiell Hammett, though struggling to finish his latest screenplay, signs on to make the exchange of skull for girl as a favor to the man who jump-started his career by publishing his earliest stories, but, of course, the exchange doesn’t go smoothly. Hammett, in turn, calls on fellow writers Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler to help him find the girl and recover the cat skull. Their chase takes them around Los Angeles, to off-shore gambling boats, to San Francisco’s Chinatown, and to Big Bear Lake and calls on their skills and connections as plot-masters, linguists, bowmen, and men-about-town. Along the way the body count rises, and they cross paths with many of the leading men and women of Hollywood. Hammett recognizes the obvious parallels with his most famous book, but even that knowledge can’t keep him and his pals out of harm’s way.
Setting: Los Angeles (Hollywood); San Francisco (Chinatown); Big Bear Lake