Book Review: Quarry’s Vote by Max Allan Collins

Quarry’s Vote
The Quarry Novels #5
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, March 2016
ISBN: 978-1-7832-9891-4
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher:  Now retired and happily married, Quarry turns down a million-dollar contract to assassinate a presidential candidate. It’s not the sort of assignment you can just walk away from without consequences – – but coming after Quarry has consequences, too.  The longest-running series from Max Allan Collins, author of Road to Perdition and the first ever to feature a hitman as the main character, the Quarry novels tell the story of a paid assassin with a rebellious streak and an unlikely taste for justice. Once a Marine sniper, Quarry found a new home stateside with a group of contract killers. But some men aren’t made for taking orders – – and when Quarry strikes off, on his own, God help the man on the other side of his nine-millimeter.

Quarry, who thinks of himself as a Vietnam-era relic, looks at himself at this stage of his life thusly:  “I was thirty-five.  I was getting bored with one-night stands and my own microwave cooking, I wanted some company and she seemed pleasant enough. She talked too much, but most people do.  She was beautiful, a terrific cook, and she kept out of my way.  What more could I ask?”  He’s been retired for nearly ten years, having used the name “Quarry” during those years when he was a paid assassin.  Written in 1987, the book at times seems prescient:  “We are coming into a fascinating election year.  The two parties – – depending upon whom they choose as their standard bearers of course – – should be in for a real battle. Think of it:  the highest office in the land up for grabs…we could have a true conservative in the White House . . .”   He turns down the offer, despite the big bucks involved.  And the situation leaves him deeply unsettled, threatening the life he has come to love, as people such as the ones making this offer don’t like to leave any loose ends.  Thinking of his wife, he muses “She was a sweet kid. I didn’t deserve her, but then who does deserve what they get in this life, good or bad?”

The ensuing tale of killers chasing a killer, who is in turn chasing them, is wonderfully well written.  A target is described as a “wealthy paranoid political crackpot who thinks the Soviets are after him.” When Quarry is asked “Are you a detective or an assassin,” he responds “Necessity has turned me into a little of both.”  When Quarry enters an upper-middle-class residence, he thinks  “It was the home of somebody who used to bowl but now golfs.”  His writing has been called “classic pulp fiction,” but my own take on it is that it is as enjoyable as anything being written contemporaneously.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2017.

Book Reviews: The Twenty-Year Death Trilogy by Ariel S. Winter

Malniveau PrisonMalniveau Prison
The Twenty-Year Death Trilogy Book 1
Ariel S. Winter
Hard Case Crime, July 2014
ISBN: 978-1-781-16793-9
Mass Market Paperback

This noir novel, written in the style of classic crime writer Georges Simenon, is the first in a trilogy, originally a single novel, entitled The Twenty-Year Death.  With or without that homage, it certainly stands on its own as recommended reading.  (Each of the three books that make up the trilogy was published by Hard Case Crime in July of 2014, with the original comprising all three published in August of 2012.)  They are set in different decades of the last century (1931, 1941 and 1951), with the 2nd and 3rd written in the style of the equally famed writers Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson.  The whole follows an American author and his much younger French wife, as well as several other well-written protagonists to greater and lesser degrees, varying with each book.

The book opens in the French village of Verargent, with the discovery of a body lying dead in the street, a local baker having come upon the corpse while walking home after work during a deluge.  The investigation falls to Chief Inspector Pelleter and the local chief of police, Letreau.  The novel unwinds over a period of less than a month, with the case getting more and more curious.  And it begins and ends in the nearby eponymous prison, where Pelleter has been called, after a fashion, by a sadistic murderer incarcerated there for several years, Mahossier, who has in the past given him information leading to the inspector being able to close theretofore unsolved cases.  Further investigation uncovers the fact that the dead man had been a prisoner at Malniveau, and had been murdered.  As things proceed, there are several more dead bodies discovered, and two young boys go missing, as well as a young woman, the French wife of the American author mentioned above.

Pelleter has his work cut out for him, it would seem.  He muses:  “He knew what had happened in many instances, but he did not know why or how, and therefore he did not know who.  He knew nothing.”  Although newly written, this is a classic noir procedural, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

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The Falling StarThe Falling Star
The Twenty-Year Death Trilogy Book 2
Ariel S. Winter
Hard Case Crime, July 2014
ISBN: 978-1-781-16794-6
Mass Market Paperback

The second of the books comprising The Twenty-Year Death Trilogy, this book feels more “noir” than its predecessor, “Malniveau Prison” (which took place in France), opening as it does in the world of Hollywood, at a movie studio in what is here called San Angelo, California, in 1941. Two of the characters from Book 1, Clotilde-ma-Fleur Rosenkrantz, a beautiful young woman, and her much older, alcoholic husband, Shem, are now, a decade later, respectively a movie star who goes by Chloe Rose, and a movie script writer, both at Merton Stein productions. The protagonist in the new book is Dennis Foster, ex-cop and now a private detective, hired by Al Knox, the studio’s chief of security, to act as sort of a bodyguard for Clotilde, who thinks she’s being followed. When Foster protests that he is not a bodyguard, Knox tells him “. . . . she only thinks she’s being followed. You just need to make her feel safe. For show.”

Although Chloe had “displaced champagne as America’s favorite French import,” there is nothing celestial about her. Her husband, Shem, “looked like a stereotype of the great American author, which he was.” As things progress, Foster doesn’t like that he is “just here for show, a piece of set decoration, and not a very necessary one either. This case already had a mystery man on the set, a mystery man on the phone, the mystery man that the man on the phone was bargaining for, the mystery man who was drinking and laughing with Shem Rosenkrantz upstairs. I was one too many. I felt like I had come to the party late and got seated at the wrong table,” and that he was “hired to babysit a paranoid prima donna.” And when more than one dead body is discovered, it serves only to make his assignment more complex, and much more difficult.

The author has the noir writing down pat. There is the requisite male movie star, whose butler was “bald with a horseshoe of hair around the back of his head, a pencil mustache, and a tuxedo with white gloves.” A reference to the WPA and a woman with a “tea-length skirt” place it firmly in its era. As well, nothing in these pages reflect what we today call politically correct attitudes. And when Foster is beaten up by men determined to keep him away from the case, the following morning “I had to get undressed before I could get dressed again, which only hurt a little. No more than getting gored by a bull.”  A man who keeps his word, he will not turn his back on his tasks of finding the killer and saving Chloe from herself.

As was the first book in the trilogy, the novel is very entertaining, and is recommended.  And I now have in front of me the last novel in the trilogy, Police at the Funeral, to which I am very much looking forward.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

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Police at the FuneralPolice at the Funeral
The Twenty-Year Death Trilogy Book 3
Ariel S. Winter
Hard Case Crime, July 2014
ISBN: 978-1-781-16795-3
Mass Market Paperback

The last of the books comprising The Twenty-Year Death Trilogy, takes place not in France, as did the first, nor in Southern California, as did the second, but in Calvert City, Maryland.  The two characters from both earlier books return here: Clotilde-ma-Fleur Rosenkrantz, a beautiful young woman who reached film stardom as Chloe Rose, and her much older, alcoholic husband, Shem, who had achieved fame as an author, later as a movie script writer.

Time has not been kind to Mr. or Mrs. Rosenkrantz:  Clotilde is now and has been for the last ten years ensconced in a private psychiatric hospital, and Shem is now washed up, and broke.  Shem returns to Maryland for the first time in 30 years following the death of Quinn Rosenkrantz, his first wife, from whom he has been divorced for 20 of those years, for the reading of her will.  Deeply in debt, Shem has traveled 3,000 miles more than anything because he is desperate for what he hopes will be the money left to him by his wife, who was from a very wealthy family, his desperation caused by his need to keep Clotilde from having to be placed in a state institution.  It had been three years since Shem had seen his and Quinn’s son, Joe, not since his high school graduation, but they of course do meet again at the office of the attorney in whose office the Will is to be read to all concerned.

The presence of the police at the funeral referenced in the title is part of an investigation into another death which follows quickly upon the scene described above.  The book is beautifully wrought, the plotting very original, and the whole a suspenseful read (more so than the two books which preceded it, in fact) that I devoured in the space of several hours.  To say more would necessitate spoilers, so I leave it to the reader to discover and explore for him or herself.  (Just to whet one’s appetite, I will only add that this was the first time I have read a book where the author makes the analogy that “killing someone was a whole lot like writing, a creative endeavor.”)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: Board Stiff by Elaine Viets, Always Watching by Chevy Stevens, and Joyland by Stephen King

Board StiffBoard Stiff
Elaine Viets
Obsidian, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-451-23985-3
Hardcover

Elaine Viets’ newest entry in the Dead End Job Mysteries begins shortly after her protagonists, Helen Hawthorne and Phil Sagemont, have gotten married and started a private detective agency out of their condo office in Riggs Beach, Florida, a beach town just south of Fort Lauderdale.

Helen and Phil, now in their mid-40’s, with a reputation as the best private eyes in South Florida, are hired to work undercover for a paddleboard rental concession owner in Riggs Beach, where he needs help finding out who is behind the vandalism and sabotage at his business, theft of his equipment, and competitors who seem to really want to put him out of business.  The couple accepts the job, Helen feeling that “I’m getting paid to sleep late and sit on the beach,” and Phil that he can get paid while sitting drinking beer with some guys on the beach trying to gain their confidence and information, seemingly a win-win situation.

The crimes have been reported to the authorities, but they are convinced that no “official action” can be expected in a town like Riggs Beach (known as Rigged Beach since Prohibition days and rumored to be fairly uniformly corrupt).  Their client’s problems multiply exponentially when a female tourist, one of his clients, tragically dies; he is threatened with revocation of his license and the City lease on his valuable beach property, as well as a wrongful death lawsuit by the victim’s husband.  Helen and Phil are tasked with proving their client was blameless in her death.

Things become more complicated, on a more personal level when a situation regarding Helen’s sleazy ex-husband, thought dead, comes back to haunt them, almost literally, affecting their marriage and their partnership, and overshadowing the case they are trying to solve.

Ms. Viets always manages to come up with a good old-fashioned mystery, which, while containing a murder or two, is more lighthearted and contains less blood and gore than many others in the genre, and is a decidedly pleasant way to spend a summer, or even late summer, day. It is, as were the prior books by this author, recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2013.

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Always WatchingAlways Watching
Chevy Stevens
St. Martin’s Press, June 2013
ISBN:  978-0-312-59569-2
Hardcover

The story at the heart of this newest book by Chevy Stevens deals with a subject not touched upon to my knowledge in years: communes, popular in decades past among “hippies” [a seemingly archaic term], and the total subjugation of their followers.  Imagine my amazement when, as I was about to finish reading this engrossing tale, I discovered an article on the front page of a section of that day’s Sunday NY Times dealing with the enormous following of a group in San Francisco which holds “guided meditations . . . [long] wait lists for panel talks and conferences [that] now run into the hundreds,” even discussing a “meditation app” that can be downloaded.  I felt as though the lines could have been placed whole into the narrative of Ms. Stevens’ new book.

The protagonist is Dr. Nadine Lavoie (who readers met in the author’s earlier novels), attending psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit in Victoria, British Columbia, whose newest patient is Heather Simeon, involuntarily committed after a suicide attempt, her third try, this time by slashing her wrists.  She and her husband of six months were both members of what can only be described as a cult, located on the outskirts of Shawnigan Lake, on the tip of Vancouver Island, calling itself The River of Life Spiritual Center.  When Nadine hears these details, memories come flooding back to her:  Now 55, when she was a young girl in the late ‘60’s, she and her mother and brother had lived for 8 months in a commune run by the same man, then only 22 years old.  That period had left her with devastating memories, worse than which are the blank spaces among them, knowing only that she has suffered from panic attacks and severe claustrophobia ever since.

Nadine’s life is a very troubled one, coming as she did from a dysfunctional family; in addition, she has recently been widowed, and has a 25-year-old daughter who had left home at 18, become a drug addict, and is now living on the streets.  As she deals with this situation, she delves into Heather’s recent past, as well as her own early years, trying to fill in the blanks, for all of which she must confront the commune and its leader, almost dreading the answers for which she searches.

The novel, suspenseful and at times grueling, is not easily forgotten when the book is put down, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

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JoylandJoyland
Stephen King
Hard Case Crime, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-781-16264-4
Trade Paperback

Devlin Jones (“Dev” or “Jonesy”), now a writer in his sixties, reminisces about the summer of 1973 when he decided to take a year off from his college studies and take a job as a carny in a North Carolina amusement park, 700 miles from his home town of Durham, New Hampshire. This is basically the plot of the newest novel by Stephen King.  But whatever preconceptions the reader might have about a book by this most prolific and best-selling novelist, be prepared to set them aside; I know I had to!  And I mean that in the best way possible.

The tale opens in 1973, when the protagonist was a self-proclaimed 21-year-old virgin.  He had just had his heart broken by his first love, and his life suddenly becomes one wholly inhabited by carny workers, as well as a ‘boy and a woman and their dog.’  Most of the summer hires are “college students willing to work for peanuts.” There is a backstory involving a dead girl killed in the amusement park years before, and four similar murders in Georgia and the Carolinas, all of young girls.   Of course, there is also the ghost in the funhouse.  Towards the end, things turn suddenly darker on, of course, an unforgettable “dark and stormy night.”

The novel is utterly absorbing, fast-reading, and very moving.  As always, Hard Case Crime has done a wonderful job of bringing us a book that may seem a throw-back to a simpler time.  And I mean that in the best way possible as well.  The novel is simply terrific, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2013.

Book Reviews: The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter and Redemption by Kate Flora

The Twenty-Year DeathThe Twenty-Year Death
Ariel S. Winter
Hard Case Crime, August 2012
ISBN 978-0-85768-581-0
Hardcover

It’s a three in one deal and when I see something like that I can’t pass it up. Yep, three books in one giant-sized novel. Three murder mysteries that bring back the genre of early hard-boiled detectives, of desperate people taking desperate measures to save themselves or their loved ones. Winter has written a novel worthy enough to be included as part of the Hard Case Crime series.

The Twenty-Year Death is actually three separate murder mysteries tied together by two characters. The first story, “Malvineau Prison”, is set in 1931. Chief Inspector Pelleter is only visiting the small French town of Verargent to speak to a prisoner concerning violence against other inmates. However, when a corpse is found within the town limits, Pelleter is drawn into a complex murder mystery involving not only the prison, but Shem Rosenkrantz, a famous American writer and his wife Clothilde.

Jump ahead ten years to Hollywood and “The Falling Star”. Clothilde-now Chloe Rose-is an actress who is paranoid thinking someone is following her. Her husband, Shem, who is writing not only for the movies, but for a smut producer, has become an alcoholic. The movie studio’s head of security hires private detective Dennis Foster to discover if Chloe’s fears are justified. What he discovers is the dead body of Chloe’s costar and very important people willing to go to great lengths to keep secrets buried.

Move to 1951 and “Police At The Funeral”. Shem Rozencrantz, has-been writer, is struggling to recover from his alcoholism and hoping for an inheritance from his first wife to keep Clothilde safe in her asylum. When he gets into an argument with his son, the young man ends up dead. Shem is hounded by the police after he and his girlfriend try to cover up the accidental death.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this massive tome. Three stories that could just as well have been three separate novels instead of grouped together under one cover. Winter writes each with a different tone and voice. The first ends up being a straight mystery while the second is in the vein of the first person hard-boiled private eye looking at a world gone dirty. The third reminds me of the fifties and sixties short novelettes of one man with his back against the wall, trying to save himself from a circumstance gone out of his control. I ended up enjoying each story even though it took me awhile to finish the entire novel. This is something different but definitely worth reading.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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RedemptionRedemption
Kate Flora
Five Star, February 2012
ISBN 9781594153792
Hardcover

A homicide detective’s life is never pretty or easy. There are always pressures from home and family and bean counters at work. There are even pressures within the ranks from other colleagues’ lives. Thus is the story of Joe Burgess of the Portland, Maine PD. A solid murder mystery with plenty of character driven action to keep you turning the pages.

Burgess just wants to spend time with his girlfriend and two kids they are thinking of fostering. However, his job keeps getting in the way. A weekend with the kids is interrupted by the murder of Burgess’ long time friend and war buddy Reggie Libby. Libby, never quite the same after the war, turned to alcohol and the street. So who would kill him? Suspects abound. His son, a shyster realtor, his ex-wife. Burgess’s struggles to find evidence in the case are another obstacle. A superior is urging him to cut out the extra manpower for what looks like an accidental drowning of a wino. Nobody seems to know Reggie’s mysterious new employment. Burgess’s friends on the street are too addled-minded to be of but scant assistance. Reggie’s son, Joey is nowhere to be found and the ex wife is a witch. The situation grows more tense as the days pass and the clues start to add up.

One of the things about homicide mysteries that keep them interesting are the subplots. Redemption has a couple of good ones, even though the latter is brought in late in the story. The story isn’t just focused on Burgess and the murder or his friend. His colleague has an ongoing problem with a woman and just doesn’t quite know how to handle the situation. Flora does a nice job of keeping me interested in the main plot, but also allowed me a breather by bringing in other action to enjoy.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo, Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins, The Litigators by John Grisham, Defending Jacob by William Landay, and The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

Nemesis
Jo Nesbo
Harper, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211969-8
Mass Market Paperback

There have now been several Harry Hole novels, but this was only the second to be published in the United States (the first was The Redbreast). Both demonstrate the author’s uncanny ability to continually lead the reader astray with one red herring after another before disclosing, in a final twist, a most unexpected dénouement.

In the present novel, these principles apply to two separate story lines.   One involves a bank robbery in which a woman is shot in the head. The other finds a woman with whom Harry had a short affair shot in her bed the day after Harry had dinner at her home (but he can’t remember a thing about the evening).  In fact, there are clues implicating him in the deed and in fact, the cover asks the question: “How do you catch a killer when you’re the number one suspect?”

The translation by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian flows smoothly. The novel was a number one best-seller in Norway, spending 39 weeks on the best seller list.  Past novels from this author saw Bangkok and Australia as settings, and the next to Hong Kong – Harry certainly gets around!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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Quarry’s Ex
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-08-5768286-4
Trade Paperback

Max Allan Collins writes noir crime novels which read very much like Mickey Spillane, with whom he was a close friend and collaborator [and completed some started by the late author].  This novel is no exception, and is full of sex, violence and hard-boiled prose.  It is a prequel to a long-running series about a hit man who has turned the tables on other assassins by developing a new business: collecting his fees from intended victims by eliminating killers and those who hired them.

This novel takes us back in time, providing the back story for the Quarry series, when he was a young marine, met Joni and married her, returned from Vietnam to find her in bed with another man (who he murders) and then going off the deep end.  After a while, he is contacted by the “broker,” and becomes a paid assassin, until he kills his “employer” in a double-cross and stealing his files which identify other murderers.  With this information, Quarry turns the tables, targeting them for elimination and saving the intended victims.

This brings us to the present story during which, purely by accident, Quarry finds his ex-wife married to a movie director, the latter the target of a pair of killers Quarry knows from the files.  The ex is really incidental to the story, which revolves around Quarry’s efforts to save the director’s life and identifying who retained the killers. It is fast and furious, with colorful characters, entertaining with panache, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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The Litigators
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53513-7
Hardcover

Early in his career, John Grisham wrote novels that whacked a home run every time.  But even Babe Ruth couldn’t do that every time.  This book is workman-like, perhaps a double.  But then, if you can do even this often enough, you’re an All Star.  And John Grisham certainly is that.

The story is extremely contrived, with sort of caricatures for characters.  It might have been more fun if they were less predictable and more cartoonish, if that’s possible. Attorney David Zinc belongs more in a soap opera than a legal novel.  His two partners, Finley & Figg, are even more unbelievable, other characters even more wooden.

But all this criticism doesn’t negate the fact that Grisham can still write an entertaining novel, albeit somewhat stilted and predictable. About the only interesting character in the book is a 90-year-old Federal judge, presiding over a comical case.  So, despite all this negativism, the novel is recommended with caveats.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2012.

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Defending Jacob
William Landay
Delacorte Press, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-385-34422-7
Hardcover

Is this novel a courtroom drama, a psychological study of a family, an introspective study of a man, or is it about truth and justice?  Or all of the above?  It’s hard to tell in this rambling book which attempts to keep the reader in suspense and leaves much to the imagination.

Andy Barber, the First Assistant DA in Newton, MA, is the man who faces the questions posed by the story and really doesn’t come to grips with the essential problems raised.  His 14-year-old son is accused of murdering a fellow student and goes to trial for Murder One.  Did he or didn’t he? Andy, who initially ran the original investigation, does not believe his son is capable of doing the deed. The effect of the pressures of the trial on Andy and his wife are weakly described.  The courtroom drama is, to some extent, extremely well done, but, for the most part, drawn out to a great degree.  And the snideness of the comments about Andy’s replacement when he’s taken off the case and during the trial are too often petty.

On the whole, the novel is an interesting presentation, but could have been edited severely, especially the front end which drags on slowly until the book picks up steam toward the middle.  It is no spoiler to note that there is more than one surprise waiting for the reader at the end, some attention-grabbing, others a little far-fetched.  That said, it is an off-beat novel that is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2012.

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The Lost Years
Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster, April 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6886-5
Hardcover

A good idea wrapped in a lot of superfluous schmaltz sums up this latest effort by Mary Higgins Clark.  The plot involves the discovery by a Biblical scholar, Dr. Jonathan Lyons, of the only letter supposedly ever written by Jesus, and Lyons’ subsequent murder, presumably as a result. The mystery, of course, is which of his various friends and co-workers wants the manuscript to sell on the black market instead of it being returned to the Vatican library from which it was removed in the 1400’s.

Instead of a straight police procedural, the story becomes bogged down in several side issues:  Dr. Lyons’ daughter’s guilt over her alienation from her father over the issue of his mistress and her own “love life;” a couple of characters, Alvirah and Willy, who outwit the police and the perpetrator; and Lyons’ wife’s dementia, among other things.

The author can still write smoothly, but the novel smacks of a manufactured outline, rather than a carefully developed plot, with each step carefully constructed to fit.  It is unfortunate because the idea for the story is excellent, and if the characters were more deeply drawn, and the irrelevancies omitted, the novel could have been more intriguing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2012.

Review: The Gutter and the Grave

The Gutter and the Grave
Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime/Dorchester, December 2005.
Originally published as I’m Cannon – For Hire by Curt Cannon by Hui Corp., 1958.
ISBN 9780843955873
Mass Market

The name is Cordell.

I’m a drunk. I think we’d better get that straight from the beginning. I drink because I want to drink. Sometimes I’m falling-down ossified, and sometimes I’m rosy-glow happy, and sometimes I’m cold sober–but not very often. I’m usually drunk, and I live where being drunk isn’t a sin, though it’s sometimes a crime when the police go on a purity drive.

Matt Cordell is a cuckold, disgraced former private detective, and down-and-out drunk when boyhood friend Johnny Bridges finds him between benders and asks Cordell to look into the disappearance of cash from Bridges’ tailor shop. Before he’s even begun, Cordell discovers Bridges’ partner dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest and Bridges fingered as the killer. Then he meets Laraine Marsh, the victim’s sister-in-law, and all his past troubles begin to seem like mere inconveniences. With a former P.I. rival baying for his blood and the cops beginning to think he’s the killer, can Cordell cut through a Gordian knot of lies and maybe, just maybe, redeem himself?

Ed McBain is a great author to turn to when I’m craving a good, no-frills detective story. I’ve only read four McBain novels so far, barely scratching the surface of his very extensive oeuvre (and not even touching all those he wrote under Evan Hunter, his legal name), and I’ve yet to be disappointed. The man was  a writing juggernaut. According to Wikipedia, in addition to McBain and Hunter, he also wrote under at least half a dozen other pseudonyms during his 50-year career. He didn’t only write gritty crime fiction either, but also science fiction, scripts (for movies, television, and the stage), and children’s books. What amazes me even more is that, although he did write series at times (most notably the 87th Precinct novels), many of McBain’s books stand on their own. Each, so far as my limited exposure has found, is fresh and original and populated by three-dimensional characters, while still adhering to the conventions of the genre.

The Gutter and the Grave was originally published in the late 1950s, an era when noir was popular in fiction and on screen. The Gutter and the Grave has all the atmosphere of classic hard-boiled crime fiction but without the verbal tics that distinguish some of the more notable purveyors of that genre (Raymond Chandler, I’m looking at you). That’s not a complaint. The Gutter and the Grave is about as boiled-down and bare-bones as a book can get and not be a Reader’s Digest condensed version. The style is a reflection of Matt Cordell’s spirit, beaten down and tarnished but with a hint of élan lurking beneath the surface.

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