Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Six Fatal Shots - Six Notable Books in the Hard Case Crime series

There are a lot of good books in the Hard Case line.  Here are six.  I'm not including Grifter's Game or Girl with the Long Green Heart because I didn't review either of them as I was reading and they aren't fresh enough in my mind to write reviews for now.

House Dick (Hard Case Crime #54)House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pete Novak is a hotel detective (or house dick) working for a Washington DC hotel. Novak takes a shine to a gorgeous guest, only to find the murdered body of her former sugar daddy in her room and the jewels he gave her missing. Can Novak find the jewels and keep the woman out of jail?

First off, I almost dismissed this one as one of Hard Case's more dubious picks, like the Robert Parker book that wasn't by the Parker everyone was thinkng of. E. Howard Hunt was involved in the Watergate break-in, after all. Well, I was wrong.

Hunt's writing is top notch and Novak is a great noir protagonist. He's a lonely hotel detective with a budding drinking problem. The web of sex, lies, and murder is very easy to get caught up in and hard to get to the center of without being devoured by it. I should know. I read the whole thing in one sitting. It's a little lighter on violence than some Hard Cases but heavy on twists. It took me forever to catch on to what actually happened regarding the jewels and Chalmer's murder. On the surface, the plot looks simple but once all the players are introduced, it becomes much more complicated.

If I could only recommend one Hard Case to someone, it would probably be this one. Who knows? It might become someone's favorite book with the word dick in the title*

*Yeah, it was an easy joke but I had to do it...

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The Vengeful Virgin (Hard Case Crime #30)The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, she was a virgin at some point...

The story is straight out of the James M. Cain playbook. Jack Ruxton, a broke TV repairman, hooks up with a teenage temptress, Shirley Angela. Shirley and Jack plot to rid Shirley of her invalid stepfather and get her vast inheritance. Almost immediately, things get shot to hell...

The Vengeful Virgin is a thrill ride of conspiracy, murder, sex, and insanity. Gil Brewer's prose is similar to Lawrence Block's and the suspense and desperation is very well done. Things start off wrong and just keep getting worse.

The characters are pretty reallistic. Even though officially I'm appalled by the idea of a thirty-ish guy and a teenage vixen, but as a red-blooded male... I can see how things went the way they did. In the beginning, Shirley's a sympathetic character. You feel for her, having her teenage years spent cooped up and caring for her dying stepfather.

The Vengeful Virgin is a gripping tale with a lot of twists and turns. If I wanted to get someone started on the Hard Case series, this is one of the ones I'd point them at first.

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Little Girl Lost (Hard Case Crime #4)Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

P.I. John Blake's childhood girlfriend, Miranda Sugarman, is found dead on top of a strip club. John follows her backtrail from her enrollment in medical school to a relationship with another woman, to a career touring the strip club circuit and a million dollar robbery. Only, things aren't as they seem at first glance.

I hate to admit it since I was prepared to write off Richard Aleas/Charles Ardai as a phony before I read his stuff but the man knows how to turn out a paperback original. The story had plenty of twists and turns and I only figured out what was really going on a few pages ahead of Blake. Great stuff.

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Songs of Innocence (Hard Case Crime #33)Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three years after the events of Little Girl Lost, John Blake has quit the detective game and gone back to school. When his friend Dorrie turns up dead in her bathtub, John puts his detective hat back on and goes looking for why Dorrie ended up dead. The trail takes up through New York's seedy underbelly of "massage" parlors and up against the Hungarian mob. Can Blake piece together what happened before he ends up dead too?

Ho. Lee. Crap. Songs of Innocence is the most powerful of the Hard Case Crime series I've read so far. Blake's desperation is a tangible thing. The mystery of what happened to Dorrie gets worse and worse, as does John's situation. I didn't see the end coming until it hit me like a freight train. The characters are well done. Not only Blake, but the supporting cast as well. It would have been easy to make the other masseuses into stereotype sluts but Aleas didn't skimp.

Like I've said before, I was prepared to dismiss Richard Aleas (aka Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case) as a pretender but the man has made a believer out of me. You can definitely tell that the Hard Case Crime series is a labor of love for him.

If you're itching for a good crime story, Songs of Innocence fits the bill. You might want to pick up Little Girl Lost first, though, for a little more background on Blake and Susan.

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The Cutie (Hard Case Crime #53)The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Billy-Billy Cantell wakes up from an H bender in a strange apartment next to a blonde that's been stabbed to death with the police outside. He runs to the nearest person that can help him, Clay, a man whose part of the same criminal organization. Clay goes looking for the cutie that set Cantell up. Unfortunately, the same cutie is trying to set Clay up. All the while, Clay struggles with trying to make a life with the woman he's living with. Can she handle being married to someone in the business?

Westlake can craft a tale with more twists than an octopus's tentacles. I only figured out who the killer was about a page before Clay did. Mavis St. Paul really got around.

I'd say this is the best of the Westlake's Hard Case Crime has put out.

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Quarry in the Middle (Hard Case Crime, #61)Quarry in the Middle by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Using information contained in the deceased Broker's database, Quarry goes to the rathole port town of Haydee's Port, Illinois to prevent a hit and earn some cash in the process. As a result,Quarry puts himself in the middle of two casino owners, both of whom would like to see the other put out of business. Permanently...

I'd say Quarry in the Middle is my favorite Hard Case Quarry novel so far. There is a lot of sex, a lot of violence, and the standard Quarry orgy of violence ending. Quarry proves to be a well-rounded character, a scumbag with some redeeming qualities, even if he does have trouble keeping his pants on. There are a couple twists and I saw the big one coming, but neither are obvious.

If you like Quarry, you'll like this. If you've never read a Quarry before, you can pick this one up without getting lost. Quarry in the Middle is easily in my Hard Case top ten.

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