Category Archives: Hard Case Crime
I’ve been falling down on the job in terms of Hard Case Crime reviews—it’s not that I’m not reading them, it’s that I’m not reviewing them. It’s even more important considering the company’s recent publication woes; the company’s original publisher, Dorchester Publishing, was getting out of mass-market paperbacks.
Luckily, Charles Ardai was swamped with offers from publishers. The good news: Titan Books, based in the UK, is partnering with Hard Case to continue publishing. Titan has an interesting catalog so far, featuring a lot of graphic novel properties, also publishing novelizations for the BBC dinosaur show Primeval.
The better news: Hard Case returns firing both barrels. Those first two books next fall are brand new, one being Quarry’s Ex, a new installment in Max Allan Collins’ series about Quarry the hitman, the other being Choke Hold, Christa Faust’s sequel to her Edgar-nominated Money Shot. The covers are already out there, and they look great.
The worse news: Hard Case is moving towards a quarterly schedule instead of monthly, so Ardai can focus on his other projects… like Haven, the TV show on Syfy he writes and produces.
Also worth note is that Hard Case is coming out with its first hardcover: Getting Off: A Novel of Sex and Violence, by Lawrence Block. Definitely an attention-grabbing title, and Block has a great reputation in the genre… something to keep an eye on.
So, a lot of mixed news this last fall for Hard Case: they’re surviving, but cutting down the number of books. They’re also moving towards trades and hardcovers instead of just mass-market paperbacks. While I personally prefer trades, mass-market paperbacks are a staple of the genre; besides, switching formats constantly means my Hard Case library won’t match up on my shelves.
In any case, the current library of Hard Case work includes a lot of solid novels and the occasional true gem. I’m still chewing through them. For the most part, I have little complaint about the individual books and no complaints about the product line.
Read more for reviews: Hard Case revisits some of lost novels of the 1950s and 1960s with gusto and abandon. Truth be told, I got into Hard Case because of their classic reprints, though their new books have been great.
Two (technically three) more Hard Case Crime books; Max Allan Collins lives up to his reputation, and I finally find a Hard Case Crime book I can’t glowingly endorse. (There’s always at least one.) Hard Case Crime continues to dominate the market for classic pulp/noir mysteries, crime, and adventure novels; they’re up to 67 announced books, including a number of big names in the field (Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Ed McBain). If there was anything I would change about the company, I’d switch up their production to more than one book a month, but that’s just me being greedy.
As my local Bargain Books had a massive half off sale this New Years’ Day, I wandered in to pick up the Hard Case Crime books I’m missing. Besides the classic noir and mystery novels from pulp era writers like Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block, there’s also plenty of modern talent mixed in, including Stephan King and Max Allen Collins. There’s some fantastic page-turners in here, including a lot of books which can only be found under the Hard Case label.
Needless to say, I continue to read and shill their material like the rabid fanboy I am.
Honestly, I feel kinda guilty about buying these from Bargain Books for half off, but at this rate I may as well just sign up for a subscription directly, seeing as how I own 40 of the first 46 books.
From the first few pages, the novel’s dark atmosphere works as a strong hook, drawing you in through the pain-filled narrative of Joe Dunne, a narrative he relates to a passing American missionary who’s stumbled into the Mexican seaside village Dunne has “retired” to. The atmosphere is enhanced not only by Dunne drowning his sorrows on the lam, however; it starts with the back cover blurb about the plot.
Three young college students go missing in Mississippi while working on voter registration, and the father of one of them hires Dunne to find proof of their death, and then to bring back proof of their killers’ are dead. If that’s not a heavy concept I don’t know what is, considering the politically-charged implications of the real event which occurred just a few years previous. (To be fair, this is not as political as you might think; it’s a PI mystery/thriller through and through.) Dunne’s in this one for the big money, planning on retiring in Mexico after he finishes this job, and ends up taking his assistant Kirby with him as part of his cover. The fact Kirby comes from the deep south herself is a strong asset.
The book’s faults lies with its pacing—the mystery works at a snail’s pace, with clever and methodical planning eating up the vast majority of the story. When the action does come, it’s brief, almost anti-climactic, and the “shock ending” mentioned on the back cover is almost cruel in its random arrival. However, the writing is strong—incredibly so. The characterizations and Dunne’s monologue-narrative are brilliant, both tangible and interesting, a pervasiveness which drives the reader on to finish Dunne’s tale.
Rifkin’s writing, through the persona of Dunne, is amazing, drawing the reader in while introducing interesting new characters, something befitting the slower pacing. His attention to detail, and Dunne’s persona, are amazing as he runs through the PI setting up his investigatory plans and backup-plans. In short, while the mystery is thinly hidden, at least Rifkin’s engaging enough to make the drawn-out revelations palatable to the reader.
By comparison, 361 is a terse little book which hits hard and fast, and doesn’t let up until you’ve run out of pages. Ray Kelly gets out of the Air Force, and prepares to enter civilian life again. All that changes when his life is thrown upside-down; after his father arrives to take him home, a car drives up next to theirs and opens fire. Waking up in the hospital to find he’s lost an eye and a father, Ray and his brother Bill prepare to serve vengeance on the unknown killers.
It sounds so straightforward, but Westlake has plenty of surprises up his sleeve. Just when you think you know what’s coming next, the rug is pulled out from under you with a rapid surprise. In some cases, Westlake builds up the feeling of straightforwardness so expectations set in, right before he drops another surprise in your lap. Heck, the first chapter is a great example—things are going fairly smoothly, perhaps even a bit dully, until the last page, where Ray very calmly reports the car driving up and his father’s death. It’s a marvelous effect, keeping the reader on their toes and keeping the plot rapidly flexible.
This is what you should think of when words like “hardboiled,” “mystery,” and “thriller” are tossed around. It’s a perfect revenge tale, the story of a man with everything taken from him trying to get back at those who wronged him. The action doesn’t really slow down, as there are plenty of fistfights and gunfights, near-escapes and frightfully random twists, all at a breakneck pace. Westlake uses a lot of short, choppy sentences, which adds to the speedy pacing; it doesn’t hurt that it charts in at just over two-hundred pages.
It’s a grim story that doesn’t cut any corners, full of twists and turns. Not only is it a fast read, but it’s also highly enjoyable. It, like most of the other Hard Case offerings, doesn’t push any envelopes or expand the boundaries. But it’s a book that grips you and demands to be finished. And, really, who could ask for anything more.
While digging around the Bargain Books in the mall, I stumbled upon a couple of paperbacks with some amazing pulp-noir crime covers. There was just something familiar about them, I thought, as I hastily assembled a collection of the most interesting novels. These things really fit the bill—beautiful women, men in trench coats, guns, cars with fins. Even the fonts were perfectly retro, flashbacks to the ’50s or ’70s. They even had a little yellow logo with a pistol that reminds me of the old Fawcett Gold Medal line,.
After I arrived home with my sack of twenty of them, I remembered where I’d seen them before. Hard Case Crime really broke to the surface when Stephen King penned a new one called “The Colorado Kid;” with this star power behind them, Hard Case Crime gained enough media attention to pop into several Google searches for pulp novel covers I’d been making. While I’d somehow missed “The Colorado Kid” and some of the others I’d found while Googling, I’d re-discovered a growing underground publisher focusing on reprinting classic crime pulps and publishing modern noir-style talent. And man, was I glad I found them at the Bargain Books.
So far, I’ve only read through a couple novels out of the sack, though I’m pretty enthused so far. The cover price is $7 each, though the Bargain Books has them for $3, and Amazon has them on their 4-for-3 deal. There’s even an annual deal where you get a book a month at half off, and some books have ads for the first year’s run for something like $50. So there’s plenty of ways to get a hold of them. I’ll post more mini-reviews as I go through the things.
Dodge wrote “To Catch a Thief,” one of my favorite Hitchcock flicks, and the similarities show through the pacing and character development. All of the characters are well-rounded, especially the female characters, and you get a fairly good idea of all the characters as the novel proceeds. This combines well with the betrayals, as the protagonist ends up crossed and double-crossed at every twist and turn. The story is a tight-knit little yarn of priceless treasure hidden in the ruins of South America and the assortment of treasure-hunters out to find it. Detective Al Colby is hired to carry a parcel via ship from Chile to Peru, a cake-walk task since he has to hold onto the parcel for ten days and return it once the ship docks in Peru. Only his employer dies mysteriously on the voyage. Investigating further, Colby realizes that the parcel may not have been as innocent as was claimed. From there, it’s a mad chase through exotic scenery to see who ends up with the treasure, with alliances shifting and forming all the way.
Reading through the story is a joy. There’s a real sense of mystery here, and the narrative twists and turns its way around a skillfully complex plot as a myriad of characters, each with their own motives. Quick-paced and never dull, I found little to complain about with this one. There’s plenty of mystery, plenty of danger, and it’s all set in an exotic South American setting, complete with a firm authorial authenticity regarding the setting. Highly recommended, and a good start to things.
The setting to this one interested me most: reporter Sam Briscoe passes by Ireland en route to Switzerland to see his daughter, interviews an IRA leader for a quick St. Patrick’s Day piece, and agrees to pass a sealed envelope on to a barkeeper back in New York. Only, as the bar erupts minutes after he leaves, Briscoe finds that his life, and the life of his daughter, may indeed be in jeopardy. Following this is a rough-and-tumble chase through New York to uncover the truth, and save Briscoe’s daughter from harm, before these mystery bombers can finish whatever they’re doing.
To be honest, this piece had a fairly slow start, and didn’t really get off the ground until Briscoe returned to New York, despite some creepy stalkers following him and his girl in the Swiss alps. Hamill has a definite gift with his narration, which made up for the slow start, at least making things interesting. After the novel gets going, it gets going; Briscoe is quickly enmeshed in the plots, and there’s quite a bit at stake. Despite its small flaws, the book was enjoyable and a good, quick read.
Prepared and published after Spillane’s death by Max Allen Collins, this is more or less Spillane’s swan-song. The plot deals with a retiring cop whose home street and precinct are being demolished. However, he finds out that his fiance, thought dead in a botched kidnapping, is still alive in a retirement village down in Florida, so he goes to live there as her neighbor. She’s got amnesia, but deep within her mind lies the key to a larger mystery—namely, what her abductors were after when they grabbed her in the first place. At its soft nougat core, this is a love story, buried under the hard-boiled detective shell and the bodies stacked like cordwood.
This is a definitive return to the form for Spillane, and it feels like a modern-day parable for both Spillane and his older readers. While everything is updated to a modern sensibility (a computer subplot, use of cell phones, the killers wield AK’s instead of Tommy guns, etc.), there’s a definite theme of age in here. The older characters, love rekindling at retirement, the fact it also comes as a large-print hardcover, all makes it feel kind of like Cocoon for Spillane’s crime-novel readers. The characterization is surprisingly crisp, even though the plot’s not terribly complex or groundbreaking. There’s quite a number of hiccups near the end, most of which are related to the fact Spillane died before writing the last three chapters. I can’t blame Collins too much; his prose does fit Spillane’s style, while at the same time it’s notably more literate. It feels like Spillane wrote out notes for three chapters which wouldn’t fit within three chapters, so, it feels a bit uneven, bumpy, and rushed. All in all, it was enjoyable, a fluffy popcorn novel which didn’t push any envelopes and took no prisoners.
So far, I’m really liking what Hard Case Crime is putting out. A short while after I bought and read some of them, I stumbled upon a wire display stand full of old paperbacks in the basement of an antique mall, which included a copy of The Guns of Heaven. Honestly, I thought the Hard Case copy looked better, with its slick cover, amazing art, retro-style fonts, everything so perfect that the company’s creator, Charles Ardai, is reported to have even measured out the margins and leading to give things the right retro feel.
I have a lot of respect for Ardai; after making his millions with Juno Online Services (mostly known for the blue CDs you got in your mail ten years ago advertising an internet connection for $9.99 a month), Ardai went on to start up a small, independant book publisher focused on simultaneously reprinting and discovering pulp-noir crime fiction. I wish there were many more people like Ardai out there today. We need some more good ole trashy paperbacks.