Double-barrelled review: the wounded and the slain/ the vengeful virgin (Hard Case Crime)

So, I’m back on a bender with Hard Case Crime books. Haven’t heard of them? Well, they’re the guys who breathe new life into a lot of old classic pulp and noir novels, with a facelift to boot, so they look like this…

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Not bad, eh? But isn’t it dangerous to judge a book by its cover?

Not with Hard Case Crime. With writers like Lawrence Block, Day Keene, Mickey Spillane, Donald E. Westlake, Christa Faust and our two men of the moment, Gil Brewer and David Goodis, on your roster, you’re safe as houses. This is genre fiction at its very best.

Brewer and Goodis were both new to me and yet I’ll certainly be coming back to them. Brewer in particular is a complete diamond: roughneck prose, sharp dialogue and a breakneck pace all making for an easy and fast read. But it’s with characterisation he excels: THE VENGEFUL VIRGIN’s two leads, Jack and Shirley, are far from good people – they’re planning to murder an old man with no other motive than to grab his inheritance – yet still we get behind them. In fact, despite their many flaws, we want them to succeed.

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With Goodis, there’s a slower pace yet he makes up for it with an extra dollop of grime. THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN follows broken couple, James and Corva Bevan, as they try to patch up their marriage  with a holiday in Jamaica. But Jim’s fondness for the drink ends literally in tears, with a broken bottle in his hand and a body on the ground. Again, there’s a distinct absence of square-jawed hero: James has precious few redeeming features, from a moral perspective. And yet, maybe because of his incredible ability to laugh in the face of…  well, just about everything…   we get behind him; we want him to win.

Brewer and Goodis were writing in a time when men wore suits and women carried revolvers in their handbags, but there’s more than simple charm on offer here: this is good, solid writing with stories more gripping than those hacked out by the vast majority of contemporary writers. So, if you’re in the market for sharp, clean prose and characters that jump out of the page, then go grab yourself some Hard Case Crime.

Personally, I’m finding them a real tough act to beat right now.

Buy THE VENGEFUL VIRGIN here (UK) and here (US).      

Buy THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN here (UK) and here (US).

Visit HARD CASE CRIME’s official website here.