Top of the Heap

Ever since I’ve gotten my Sony 505, I’ve been doing some mad reading. I’ve also been doing some mad neglecting, most namely in the Hard Case Crime (HCC) series.

So I made myself a promise, for every book I read on the 505, I read a HCC book until I’m all caught up. I don’t know how long I’ll keep at it, but since I tend to not like reading back-to-back-to-back HCC novels, this is doable. In addition, I’m starting from the first HCC release and reading them order (those I haven’t read yet).

So, first one up is Top of the Heap, which is book three in the series.

The book follows detective Donald Lam as he provides what at first seems to be a harmless alibi for John Carver Billings II, but as things unravel, Lam finds that he has been played. Of course that doesn’t sit too well with Lam, and he goes on a mission to figure out why Billings set him up.

Top of the Heap is bittersweet. It starts off grand, with that pulp fiction prose that I love so much, but by the third act, when the mystery is coming unraveled, it’s nothing but exposition. In these types of books, it seems that exposition is to be expected at some point or another, but here it seems to go on and on and on. First Lam explains to one person what exactly happened. Then the coppers pull him in, and he explains the entire thing again, this time adding a little bit more. Then a third party is notified and it starts all over again. By the time the third (or was it the fourth?) explanation came around, I was weary of the whole damn thing.

Best known for his “Perry Mason” novels, Gardner certainly does have the snap and wit for the dime novel, but this first introduction for me was pretty underwhelming. Yet I like his style enough to give him another chance, I just hope I’m not spoon fed the entire mystery next time.

Fade to Blonde

I’ve been back filling my Hard Case Crime collection every time they have a dollar sale (members only sale, you cats really need to join the club if you haven’t yet), and Fade to Blonde by Hard Case Crime co-founder Max Phillips — the other founder being Charles Ardai — is one that had most recently come in.

Number two in the HCC catalog, Blonde is yet another fantastic addition to the series, as it has everything pulp lovers need: Babes, brawn, bullets and bite.

Set in 1940s Los Angeles, Roy Corson is hired by Rebecca LaFontaine for a little protection from a gentleman named Halliday — a man who has threatened to throw lye in her face. And, oh yeah, Halliday is tied to the mob. But Corson does what any man’s man does in this situation…he takes care of business.

Blonde is a fine example of what pulp fiction goodness is all about, damsels in distress, tough as nails protaganists (and equally slimey antaganists) and razor sharp writing. Author Phillips has a good beat:

From a conversation with a sandwich girl at a party:

“How’s Miss Godalmighty?” she said absently.


“Your date. Miss HIgh and Godalmighty Bellinger.”

“Oh. Fine, thanks. She sends her love.”

“You like tomatoes? Some people are allergic, but I think they’re good.”

“I like tomatoes.”

“What she probably likes is you’re not an actor.”

“That’s it.”

“I guess she’s not too high and mighty for a place like this.”

“I guess she isn’t. What did she turn you down for?”


“I said, what did she turn you down for. Or did she just turn you down, period?”

The girl in the kimono didn’t say anything, just kept slicing tomatoes.

You hear that? That snap snap snap? That’s a good beat, kids.

One slight thing I didn’t like about the book is some of characters brought in didn’t have much purpose other than furthering the plot. It’s expected to have a character once in a while that accomlishes this, but Blonde has a few more than it needs. Corson’s interactions with characters like Burri, the head mob honcho, seem a little forced and pointless. Burri isn’t the only one, either. The man (whose name escapes me) who suggested LaFontaine to Corson in the first place pops up once or twice, if only to give Corson some advice and/or information just seems like filler.

Another small problem I had was with the ending. I felt slightly cheated because there wasn’t enough information prior to suggest what was coming. Looking back, there were slight hints, but they were barely whispers and nothing to grab onto. The finale is by no means unbelievable, but it would have been nice if, after finishing the book, I could have said, “OH! OKAY! I GET IT!” But because of the suddeness, it seemed a tad contrived.

These quibbles are easily overlooked, though, because Phillips is really that good with the lingo. The book is by no means a disappointment and is a fun read from start to finish. So much so, that I’m hoping Phillips throws us fans another bone in the future.

The First Quarry

There’s a lot of things I love about the Hard Case Crime series. Their covers are amazingly cool. The club is reasonably priced (about $6.00 a month). About every quarter they have sweet sales, where they mark down books to a buck or two (just got in 13 books for $21). And, with the exception of maybe one or two books, I have enjoyed everything I’ve read from the catalogue.

But one of the things I like most about the HCC series is it introduces me to authors I may not have heard of (or have seen their work without realizing it). Like Max Allan Collins. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

Due to just being busy as hell, it’s the first HCC book I’ve read in a while. As I was reading it, I was painfully aware that I’ve been away from the pulp for entirely too long (and realized, with glee, while I haven’t read any in a while it also means I have a pretty big back log I can plow through).

The First Quarry is actually the second “Quarry” book in the catalogue, the first being The Last Quarry. Fortunately for me, First is the prequel to Last, and I have not had a chance to read the latter, yet. So that works out pretty good.

It’s 1970, and Quarry, a paid-for-hire assassin, sits in an abandoned house watching the occupant of the home across the street, waiting for an opportunity to close the contract.

As the title, The First Quarry, suggests, this is Quarry’s first job for The Broker, a man who found Quarry through unknown means, and offered him a position in his company. The Broker negotitiates the contracts, and his employees, men like Quarry, fulfill those contracts. A sniper in Vietnam, Quarry came home from the war only to find his wife with another man and…let’s just say he took care of business. Since then, Quarry didn’t really have anything going on in life until The Broker showed up. An opportunity presented itself, and he took it.

Because nothing is ever easy in a pulp novel, this is no simple job. So many things complicate this seemingly simple hit, it no longer becomes a case of “What can go wrong, will,” but “Yeah, shit’s just gonna go wrong, whether it can or can’t.” But a credit goes to author Collins’ skill, because everything that goes wrong is feasible, and it all comes together in a believable way in the end.

The First Quarry is written in first person narrative, but it is also a diary of sorts, as Quarry addresses the reader (think TV’s “Dexter”). It works extemely well because Quarry (via Collins) is very matter-of-fact with a witty, dry sense of humor. It works extremely well, and a solid introduction to Max Allan Collins for me.

Now, as I mentioned, I like how the HCC catalogue introduces me to authors I’ve read before, authors I’ve never heard of and authors whose works I’ve seen, but wasn’t aware of who they were. Well, Collins is the author of The Road to Perdition (you know, the movie that Tom Hanks is actually enjoyable in?). I didn’t realize this until I hit Collins’ website and noticed that on his bibliography. Completely fitting considering how much I enjoyed the movie’s noir style — and I still need to pick up that graphic novel.

The Fist Quarry is yet another solid entry in the Hard Case Crime catalogue. I can’t wait to read The Last Quarry.

Money Shot

Wow. It certainly has been a while since my last update, but after finishing Money Shot by Christa Faust, I had to post about it.

A while back, I wrote a blog about how, for the most part, I do not enjoy mystery novels (or, more specifically, crime novels) written by women, as they generally get tied up with crap I don’t care about (ie: feel good garbage). Of course, there are exceptions (like Janet Evanovich), but those are few and far between.

Well, if Money Shot is any indication, Faust is a very welcome addition to my limited library of female crime writers. (And before any panties get in a bunch and accuse me of being misogynistic, can men write romance novels as good as women? I’m guessing no.)

Anywho, Money Shot, aside from having a terrific oh-so appropriate title, centers around Angel Dare, a former pornstar turned business woman (her business caters to women in porn). When she gets a call to pull a favor for a friend, a quickie movie, Dare reluctantly agrees. (Partly because the guy she’s to ‘do’ is the current top dog in the industry and he specifically asked for her).

Once she shows up to the shoot, though, she’s beaten, tortured and raped — all over a missing briefcase that she knows seemingly nothing about. Fortunately for our heroine, she manages to live through this ordeal (not for the lack of the baddies trying), and takes it upon herself to give a little payback.

Just scope the book’s first paragraph:

Coming back from the dead isn’t as easy as they make it seem in the movies. In real life it takes forever to do little things like pry open your eyes. You spend excruciating ages trying to bend your left middle finger down far enough to feel the rope around your wrists. Even longer figuring out that the cold hard thing poking you in the cheek is one of the handles of a pair of jumper cables. This is not the kind of action that makes for gripping cinema. Plus there are these long dull stretches where people in the audience would probably go take a piss or get popcorn, since it looks as if nothing is happening and they figure maybe you really are dead after all. After a while, you start to wonder the same thing yourself. You also wonder what will happen if you throw up behind the oily rag ducttaped into your mouth or how long it will take for someone to notice you’re missing. Otherwise you are mostly busy bleeding, trying not to pass back out, or laboriously adding up the cables, the stuffy cramped darkness, the scratchy carpet below and the raw hollow metal above to equal your current location, the trunk of an old and badly maintained car. That’s what it was like for me, anyway.

How can you not like that opening?

And, the best part is Faust keeps that finger snapping beat the entire novel. Good times, indeed.

Part of the Hard Case Crime library, Money Shot is probably the best I’ve read of the series. And that’s impressive because, with the exception of maybe two, they all have been top notch reads.

I’m eagerly looking forward to more from Faust. She’s a fantastic writer, she has crazy wit and she’s pretty damn hot to boot.

That’s right. I said “to boot.”

If you dig the hard boiled, pick this one up immediately.

Kill Now, Pay Later

You know a book is good when it’s memorable, and Robert Terrall’s Kill Now, Pay Later is good book.

Part of the Hard Case Crime series (really digging this series), I finished it about two months ago, and I can still recollect parts of the book with ease.

Ben Gates, Kill Now’‘s main character, is a Private Dick who takes a seemingly easy gig guarding some wedding presents for a fancy pants family.

As it goes, someone drugs him, kills the host and makes off with some of the goodies that were intended for the bride and groom. The blame, of course, falls squarely on Gates’ shoulders, so in order to keep his reputation, he has to solve the case to clear his name.

During his investigation, Gates manages to sleep with seemingly every woman he comes in contact with, and fight every bad guy in his path. Like John Blake in Little Girl Lost, Gates is not a Superman. He does take his licks. Not as much as Black, but Gates (like Blake) is a realistic protagonist.

What’s really interesting about Kill Now is it was first published over 40 years ago. Reading it, it holds up extremely well, as Terrall was smart enough not to put anything in that would date the book. No TV show mentions, no song mentions, no car model mentions. None that I could recollect, anyway.

Kill Now, Pay Later is humorous and action packed, just how I like my pulp. A fine addition to the Hard Case Crime series.

Little Girl Lost

Over a year ago, I read Colorado Kid by Stephen King, which was part of Dorchester Publishing’s new series of Hard Case Crime books. While the book was enjoyable, it was neither hardboiled, nor noir. And as much as I liked the pulp cover, I didn’t pick up any more in the series.

I’m a dumbass.

I should have known that the most likely reason they put King in this series is to sell books and get publicity. It was a smart move. But it wasn’t enough for me to keep reading the line.

So one day I was searching around BookMooch, and, on a whim, I did a search for Hard Case Crime. Little Girl Lost was the first hit, so I put in my request. Soon enough, it was at my doorstep. I took it to work with me the next day, and finished it a couple days after that.

Little Girl Lost - Richard Aleas

In a nutshell, while reading the paper one day, John Blake (who happens to be a private investigator, go figure) learns that his first true love was found murdered on the roof of a strip club. Last he heard, she was off in college. So what the hell happened that made her a stripper, and a dead one at that? So he digs into the case.

Lost is an interesting book, as far as hardboiled goes. Blake is not your stereotypical P.I. Sure, he’s witty as they come, laugh-out-loud witty at times (and I’m sure the people on the Metro loved that). And he’s a tough guy in his own right. But the guy gets his ass kicked at least three times in the book. Not something you see often, and it works on some level because it humanizes him. New comer Charles Ardai (writing under the pseudoname Richard Aleas) shows a great deal of promise with this first novel of his. He’s definitely got the wit down, as well as the feel for a gritty crime novel. I hope he continues to churn them out, as I’m already a fan of his work. (Side note: Ardai is the creator of the Hard Case Crime series).

After finishing Lost, I immediately signed up for the Hard Case Crime book-a-month club, and my father, too. They are reasonably priced, thier covers are seriously bad ass and, if Little Girl Lost is any indication, they are going to be something to look forward to in my mailbox each month.

Check them out.