From Aural Innovations #30 (February 2005)
[Ed. note: Since this article was submitted, the Mystery Writers of America announced this year's nominations for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and they chose to nominate two of the first six Hard Case Crime books: THE CONFESSION by Domenic Stansberry for "Best Paperback Original" and LITTLE GIRL LOST by Richard Aleas for "Best First Novel."]
She was blonde. She was beautiful. And she was totally naked. Kneeling on a king-size bed fitted with matching crimson sheets and a rumpled blanket draped across her chest and right shoulder. She was clutching a big black gun - hidden between her legs - laying along the inside of her thigh. Her head was turned slightly toward the door behind her. A tired silhouette of a private dick leaned against its frame. Appraising the enticing flesh facade exposed in front of him. She was a real femme fatale. Straight outta the pulps.
I reached out toward her. Plucked the paperback from its rack. I leafed through its tempting and torrid pages. It was titled "Fade to Blonde" by Max Phillips. One of the new paperback books published by Hard Case Crime. A series that planned to bring back pulp style crime stories complete with pulp style artwork gracing their covers. Some of the novels are brand new stories and some are older stories written by the likes of Lawrence Block, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Max Allan Collins.
It took time to get my hands on all six of these paperbacks. But eventually I did and I read every one of them. I was wondering how the new pulp novels would hold up against the older novels. How would they feel? How would they update the stories to fit into a world now littered with cell phones? Not to mention all those other modern marvels designed to make our lives easier, safer, and more connected to every other Jane and Joe infesting this planet. Turning it into a utopia for electronic consumerized sheep.
A easier life? Yes.
A safer life? No.
As these trusting sheep are led off into their idyllic dreams - from the cracks in utopia - emerge the same old nightmares forged in the bleak days of noir. From the alleys. From the nightclubs. From the lonely deserted streets and waterfronts.
That nagging feeling starts to haunt you. That feeling you have become lost. Betrayed. Sold out. It creeps up on you like a bad case of the DTs. You suddenly realize that your life has spiraled out of control through no fault of your own. And with every effort you make to struggle to save your precious skin - you only fall deeper and deeper into the web of deception. The web spun by the femme fatale and enforced by her cohorts in crime.
You know the kind of dames I'm talking about. The adrenaline junkies. The dragon ladies. The drama queens. The gold-diggers. The gun molls. The manipulators. The sob sisters. The man-eaters and noir nymphs - with ice in their veins and a hand in your pocket - sucking you dry. Then tossing you to the wolves. Showing absolutely no remorse at all after you've served your purpose. Your tombstone nothing more than a stepping stone paving their path to greater glory.
Maybe, if you're lucky, you'll run into the rarest of dames. The stripper or hooker with a heart of gold. The dame that is willing to risk all to help you navigate through the labyrinth of noir. Just because she really wants to see an honest joe succeed in his quest for truth and justice. Deep down, she's the girl next door. What can you expect along your journey?
I don't want to give too much away. You'll have to find out for yourself what crime has in store for you. But I'll give you a few hints. You might be asked to do a favour and find yourself on the lam. You might find yourself framed for murder. You might find yourself worked over by the mob. You might find yourself forced to participate in a heist. You might find yourself killing for love. Or dying for the lack of it. And you just might even find yourself in the process.
They say a picture speaks louder than words. And a loaded gat speaks even louder than that. So take a look at some pulp crime cover art and see what it tells you about Hard Case Crime. Go ahead. Take a look. See for yourself what I'm talking about: www.hardcasecrime.com/books_bios.cgi
Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block:
Joe Marlin is a con man with an interesting dilemma. He's fallen for the charms of a beautiful blonde. A blonde named Mona who's grown tired of sharing her life with a much older husband. To make matters even worse - there's that stash of raw heroin Joe found inside the luggage he lifted before he met Mona.
Two For The Money by Max Allan Collins:
Nolan's been on the run for 16 years pulling one heist after another. He feels old. And he's tired of running. So he agrees to pull one last heist and turn the proceeds over to the man who hates him most. A man with ties to the Chicago Mafia.
This paperback contains two novels under the same cover. Bait Money and Blood Money. Two classic tales of double cross and revenge by the author of the graphic novel The Road To Perdition and scribe from 1977 to 1993 of the international syndicated comic strip DICK TRACY.
Fade To Blonde by Max Phillips:
Ray Carson is hired by a blonde bombshell. She wants him to protect her from a real tough guy that's out to get her. Ray soon finds himself joining the mob in order to get right to the heart of the matter. And soon finds out that he's got himself in pretty deep.
Top Of The Heap by Erle Stanley Gardner:
Donald Lam is a private investigator hired by the son of a rich prominent citizen. Apparently, he was the last person seen with a gangster's girlfriend - and she's vanished! He establishes an iron clad alibi. But on closer scrutiny, facts just don't add up. This is an interesting tale from the creator of Perry Mason.
The Confession by Domenic Stansberry:
Jake Danser, a forensic Psychologist, finds himself the prime suspect when his mistress is found strangled - with his necktie. Now he has to prove he didn't do it while his whole life unravels and spirals out of control. This is a psychological suspense thriller reminiscent of Cornell Woolrich - the master of this genre of noir.
Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas:
John Blake is a young private eye. He's just read an article in the newspaper that hits home. It's about a girlfriend he knew ten years ago. She'd left town to attend collage to become a doctor. He hasn't heard from her in years. Now she's turned up on the roof of a seedy New york Strip club - Dead.
If you're really into crime... you'll be pleased to learn that there's more on the way in March. In the meantime, you can read all about this new series at www.hardcasecrime.com and track down these paperbacks at your local bookseller. Or order them on-line at Amazon.com by selecting the book option and searching for "Hard case crime".
So here's to crime!