Tag Archive: Hard Case Crime


   

Review by C.J. Bunce

In many ways Stephen King’s new supernatural crime novel Later is a natural follow-on to his two earlier Hard Case Crime novels, Joyland, which I loved, and The Colorado Kid, which will have me revisiting it for years to identify what I am sure is a hidden story beneath the obvious one.  Joyland follows a coming of age vibe for an older character and King pulls from a similar quiver of creepiness in Later as he did for The Colorado Kid.  Yes, Later will get the obvious comparison to the “I see dead people” kid from The Sixth Sense–a few updates and this could be its sequel, one as good or better than that great M. Night Shyamalan shocker (a character even calls out the comparison, and King doesn’t try to shy away from it).  But even more than that, this story is a perfect launch pad for a television series, a series that should be written and directed by Shawn Piller as a natural follow-up to the King-Piller partnership’s successful series Haven and The Dead Zone.  The slow-simmering pacing reflects the perfect make-ready four season series centering on a boy burdened with an ability he cannot walk away from.  Later easily could be the next Medium, Prodigal Son, or Tru Callingjust as dark, with a bit of Fallen thrown in.  It’s a highly recommended read, available for pre-order now here at Amazon, scheduled for release March 2.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fifty years after author Max Allan Collins wrote his first novel while in college at the University of Iowa, titled Bait Money.  The novel featured Nolan, a 48-year-old thief tied in with the mob toward the end of his career in crime, inspired by Donald Westlake’s popular character Parker.  Collins would write eight more Nolan stories, but now 33 years after the last he’s released an all-new Nolan sequel through the Hard Case Crime imprint, the cleverly titled Skim Deep.  In 1987 Nolan is 55 now and thinking about tying the knot with long-time girlfriend Sherry, who he saved from Coleman Comfort, the villain in earlier novels, years ago.  But can someone like Nolan ever quit the business?  Will his past let him settle down in his house with Sherry in the Quad Cities on the Iowa-Illinois border?  Count Skim Deep as another in the win column for author Collins, and a great read that will usher in coming reprints of all his Nolan novels.

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Our borg Best of 2020 list continues today with the Best Books of 2020.  If you missed them, check out our reviews of the Best Movies of 2020 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here, and the Best in TV 2020 here.  Our list continues tomorrow with the Best Comics and Games of 2020.  And we wrap-up the year with our additions to the borg Hall of Fame later this month.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t publish reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going!

Best Sci-Fi, Best Thriller Novel Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson (Tor Books).  It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.

Best Tie-In NovelBloodshot novelization by Gavin Smith (Titan Books).  A great update to the genre that began with Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, Smith creates an exciting, vivid novelization of the comic book character adapted to the big screen.  Honorable mention: Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).

There are many more best book selections to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From 1977 to 1993, noted crime writer Max Allan Collins was writing stories “ripped from the headlines” in the Dick Tracy comic strip.  Some of Collins’ proposed stories were too racy for the average daily newspaper, so Collins took this as an opportunity to introduce the stories in the pages of Ms. Tree, a series published then by Eclipse.   A year ago, I reviewed a new collection of classic Ms. Tree stories from the 1980s, penned twenty years before Jessica Jones, written by Collins and illustrated by artist Terry BeattyMs. Tree: One Mean Mother.  Ms. Michael Tree is the 6-foot tall, 9 mm pistol-toting private eye with a clever homonym name, referred to as the “female Mike Hammer” in the stories written by the man who would take over the character from Mickey Spillane.  She borrows something real and gritty from Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective Bertha Cool and her brand of sleuthing, certainly unique for the 1980s.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Comics is publishing the second volume of Ms. Tree stories next month, five more stories from the dark corners of big city life, in Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet.  Classic Collins crime tales in the comics are like his 21st century crime novels–they do not disappoint.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For the 100th centenary of the celebrated writer Ray Bradbury, his short stories were read, indexed, and partitioned to shake loose those tales that fall entirely (or even slightly) inside the crime story genre for a new collection, Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury, being released for the first time tomorrow by Hard Case Crime in a deluxe hardcover edition.  Not your typical crime noir writer (and who would want that anyway?), Bradbury didn’t hesitate to mix in science fiction and fantasy elements in his attempts to arrive at something in the vein of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain’s writings.  His works verged on the edge of the stuff of The Twilight Zone, with the darkest entries even creepier yet.  Some of the selected stories were adapted into episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Bradbury’s own series, The Ray Bradbury Theater.

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Stephen King has penned his next crime novel for Hard Case Crime.  In Later, King creates another character with special powers, a young man drawn into a crime tale.  King’s non-horror works are our favorites, including Joyland, an incredible story of a young man working a carnival for the summer with a dose of murder, which we previewed in King’s original book tour here at borg, and The Colorado Kid, reviewed here, a story of quirky characters and a dead guy who may be from nowhere or somewhere.  Later is coming to bookstores and online retailers in March 2021, and it is now available for pre-order here at Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a better writer of pulp crime fiction in the long history of the genre than Erle Stanley Gardner, I don’t know who it is.  Yes, Mickey Spillane and Donald E. Westlake are in the running, too, but even if you push aside Gardner’s more than 60 novels featuring Perry Mason, you’re going to be challenged to find a better duo of detectives from the 1930s onward than Gardner’s Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.  Gardner wrote 29 novels published in his lifetime featuring the larger than life Bertha of the B. Cool Detective Agency and loyal and well-trod upon employee Lam, the narrator of the tales who lost his license to practice law and uses his smarts to keep money coming in to the agency.  Where the Hard Case Crime imprint is at its best is finding lost gems, and they have one in The Knife Slipped, written by Gardner and intended to be the duo’s second case, the publisher kicked it way back in 1939 because of Bertha’s brash, bombastic, and profane style.  Maybe that attitude just reflected the era of the day, but reading the novel now it’s clear Gardner was ahead of his time. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Some writers are great at writing crime novels from the perspective of the detective, some are great at writing as the criminal, and then there are writers like Donald E. Westlake who had it all figured out.  The latest publication of a classic Westlake novel from Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint is from the vantage of a murderer who keeps getting wrapped deeper and deeper into his web of lies.  The novel is A Travesty, a 1977 pile-on of crime references and tropes about a film critic trying to prove wrong the maxim “crime does not pay”–featured in a new 2-for-1 trade edition with the short story Ordo titled Double Feature, and originally released together under the title Enough.

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Are Snakes Necessary

Review by C.J. Bunce

The director of The Untouchables, Scarface, Carrie, and Mission: Impossible and writer/director of screenplays for more than a dozen noir thriller films including Body Double, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, Obsession, and Femme Fatale has penned his first novel.  Along with former New York Times editor Susan Lehman, celebrated movie writer/director Brian De Palma delves into a story of intrigue behind a fictional 2016 senatorial campaign in the new political thriller Are Snakes Necessary? arriving in two weeks from Hard Case Crime.  The modern pulp noir follows intersecting characters in a smarmy world of cheating, lying, and murder, from Las Vegas to Washington to Paris.

A senator and his majordomo encounter a woman from the senator’s past at an airport, and the senator is eager to welcome her daughter as an intern to document his campaign.  Meanwhile, a struggling photographer gets mixed up with the trophy wife of a wealthy businessman in Las Vegas.  Two married couples–a cheating wife and a cheating husband–the wife a victim of spousal abuse seeking to get out, and a politician with a sick wife staking out his next conquest.  And somehow they all come together during a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, based more toward the underlying novel, which was set in France (I reviewed the novel a few weeks ago here at borg).

In a way Are Snakes Necessary? is De Palma taking a stab at doing his own play on Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski.  Fans of The Girl on the Train, Chinatown, State of Play, and the sleazier shelf of 1970s era pulp crime novels will go for this one, along with fans of De Palma’s films.  More about 20th century sexual politics than 21st century sexual politics and less about a political campaign, the snakes in the title are the men who continue to get away with manipulation, lies, and sometimes murder.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Forty-three years after author Max Allan Collins published his novel Quarry’s Deal in 1976, he has penned the sequel, Killing Quarry, what he calls the last of a sub-series of his famous anti-hero Quarry’s exploits selling his hitman services to targets of other hitmen.  Killing Quarry is available now from Hard Case Crime, the 15th novel of the Vietnam vet whose return from the service wasn’t at all what he expected, and the subject of his own Cinemax series, Quarry, reviewed here at borg last year.  Collins has finished or co-authored nearly as many crime novels with crime writer Mickey Spillane posthumously, reflecting the prolific nature of Collins’ crime writing and expertise, plus Collins’ noteworthy Road to Perdition, five other book series and countless tie-in novels.  Killing Quarry is great fun, a solid retro fix, and true throwback to those action-packed, guns and sex pulp novels of the 1970s.

Collins catches up with Quarry as he’s pulled another name from the Broker’s hit list, acquired after the Broker’s death more than a decade ago.  The Broker was the man who first tapped Quarry for a life of murder for money when he returned from the war with few prospects and a cheating wife.  Quarry takes on both roles as hitman this time, both planning and monitoring the target in a town a few hours away, ultimately to make the hit himself, an enterprise usually split between two partners to the job.  But it doesn’t take long for Quarry to realize the hitman he is after is pursuing his own target, right back to Quarry’s own neighborhood, right across the street in direct eyeshot to Quarry’s own retreat.  The killing life is wearing on Quarry after all these years, but at least he is prepared and knows what is coming for him.  He’ll be ready, so long as he doesn’t fall asleep on the job.

Cinemax’s Quarry television series.

Quarry is joined in the 1980s this time by Lu, the blonde Asian-American woman who became his lover in Quarry’s Deal in the 1970s.  She’s a killer in her own right, and enmeshed with the system of brokers and hitmen that have now become a regional game of hitmen and agents beginning to trip over each other’s territories.  Both Quarry and Lu deserve each other–they are both getting too old for killing and want to stack up their funds and retire to some tropical paradise.  They walked away from each other years ago.  Maybe this time it will work out for them?

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