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by Charles Ardai
Hard Case Crime, December 2008
329 pages
ISBN: 0843959681

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

What a goofy concept! In 2004, Charles Ardai brought to life a risky small press. Unlike so many small presses that limit production to a few books a year, with this title Hard Case Crime is offering book number 50. The authors of some of these (mostly) throw-back, noir and dark titles, complete with glorious pulp style covers, are often well-known, famous even. The books are occasional reprints, sometimes new novels, but either way, it's a true accomplishment. For at least ten years, I've been part of so many "whither publishing?" discussions: the idea of starting a paperback house, especially one that is a tribute to an age long gone, would seem hugely risky. We're lucky that several of these risks have paid off.

The book is admittedly gimmicky, but Ardai is aboveboard in his writing here. He's trying to tell a real and coherent story. Sometimes it wore on me, since fifty chapters makes for a lot of words. Kudos to the author for not cheating and turning out artsy mini-chapters with a line or two to cover. But at well over 300 pages, I thought the book needed a trim.

Ardai knows the genre. In this story, a young woman arrives in New York, like so many girls hoping for a nifty Big City job, and things go south really fast. She ends up dancing at a club (really, just dancing). And in a not-exactly plausible twist, she writes a pulp novel which apparently is so believable that thugs show up searching for the author who knew about the theft of that $3 million.

See? It's got lots of potential. There's dames and thugs in a New York full of bars and cheesy publishers (the porn is a sideline, honest!). Given the constraints Ardai assigned himself, each chapter used a title from the HCC lineup (in order, so he couldn't switch when Chapter 14 turned out to be Lawrence Block's "The Girl with the Long Green Heart," or, far worse, Chapter 39's "A Diet of Treacle.").

It's a pretty satisfying book, probably more satisfying if you get all the in-jokes. In the final pages, we meet two writers who, of course bear no resemblance to Don Westlake or the aforementioned Lawrence Block. Nope, not at all. Most of HCC's books are by well-known names, including Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Max Allan Collins, Pete Hamill and Ken Bruen. These guys know their stuff so despite the pretty inevitable filler, Ardai manages to hold his

own. He gives the major sleuthing job to a very non-traditional pulp sleuth, an 18-year-old woman named Patricia Heverstadt which goes against all the rules. Hey, it's his company, he gets to do that.

And don't miss examining the cover where you'll see this classic noir hero examining some very familiar paperback books laid on the desk. This book's fun. It ain't high class literature but you weren't expecting that, were ya?

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, March 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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