Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block

Posted August 7, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

Grifter’s Game by Lawrence BlockTitle: Grifter’s Game (Goodreads)
Author: Lawrence Block
Series: Hard Case Crime #1
Published: Hard Case Crime, 1961
Pages: 205
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Leonard K. Blake is a conman hiding out in Atlantic City, but of course that’s not his real name, nor is it David Gavilan or Joe Marlin. He has a knack for telling a story and knows exactly what people want to hear in order to take advantage of them. Then he meets Mona, a blonde bombshell, bored wife to a millionaire. He can make a lot of money from this woman but when he steals a suitcase full of heroin from a train station that belongs to her husband things change. A brick of pure heroin will either make him rich or dead and so could Mona.

Originally released in 1961 under the name Mona and later released as Sweet Slow Death, Lawrence Block’s novel Grifter’s Game (the title he originally wanted to use) is the first book in the now popular Hard Case Crime series. This is a gritty noir at its best, something Block is known for and something readers come to expect from this imprint. A fast paced narrative that will keep the reader on its toes right to the end.

I’m not going to lie to you, while reading this book I have to think back on my past and all the dumb things I’ve done and I thought to myself, I might have been a pretty good grifter if I was born back then. Honestly I knew how to lie and manipulate, not something I’m proud of and not something I ever want to do again. So this book hit a little close to home with me and reminded me of the past I would rather leave behind; something that makes this a difficult book for me to read.

The more I read Lawrence Block, the more I like his style which is good because he has published a lot of books, most in different series so it’s always nice to read a standalone. From the snappy dialogue to the plotting, Block has really crafted his style that could rival some of the greats from the golden age of pulp. He really knows how to write both noir and hard-boiled novels that remain gritty and fresh, after so many books I’m not sure how he manages to do this.

Grifter’s Game is probably not the best novel to start with if you’ve never read Lawrence Block, but is definitely one worth trying. He really captured how I would picture an immoral, unsympathetic lowlife and somehow manages to still get the read to care about what happens. This was the perfect book to launch the Hard Case Crime imprint with.  It has everything you want in a pulp; plot, fast pacing, complex characters, gritty prose, great dialogue and the shocking end.

Joyland by Stephen King

Posted July 22, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Joyland by Stephen KingTitle: Joyland (Goodreads)
Author: Stephen King
Series: Hard Case Crime #112
Published: Hard Case Crime, 2013
Pages: 283
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Devin Jones has gotten a job working as a ‘carnie’ in a small North Carolinian town. The amusement park Joyland was a site of the legendary unsolved murder. The house of Horrors was where this murder took place, half way through the ride a man cut the throat of his date and threw the body out of the carriage. It wasn’t until the end of the night that they found the dead body (most people thought it was part of the house of horrors) but by then the man was long gone.

Stephen King is best known for his fantastical and horror elements but since this was a Hard-Case Crime novel, I expected more of a pulp novel rather than what I got. There was that pulp and gritty whodunit element but true to King style there was some supernatural components within the novel as well which for me seemed unnecessary; I felt like King sets up the novel in his normal horror fashion and then completely forgets about it. It wasn’t till right near the end that he returned to this plot arc, almost like he needed to wrap everything up in a nice neat bow so he had to finish off that arc as quickly as possible. Without these supernatural elements the novel would remain just the same and maybe even more realistic. There is the fortune teller who gets more air time but then that could be just a character that is really good at reading people and wouldn’t need to be explained.

Both the whodunit and horror genre styles don’t really fit this book anyway; this is a coming of age novel, dealing with Devin’s first real job, his first heart break, first sexual experience, as well as friendship and loss. The story feels like a noir or pulp novel by the way it is written but that all takes a backseat to the building of characters. Not that there is anything wrong with that but in pulp novels it’s all about the minimalism and jamming the novel with a fast paced plot. Joyland didn’t do this and I struggle to find a reason why this book was added to the Hard-Case Crime series.

So once I got past my initial expectations, Joyland does turn out to be a fairly enjoyable novel. It’s not what I wanted but it was still good. I’ve not read much of King in the past (The Gunslinger and 11/22/63) and both those novels really were not what I would have expected from a Stephen King novel. I must remember to read some of his classic novels like The Shining, The Stand or It just to see if what I expect from this author is different. I never expected so much character development and I never expected his books to focus more on the relationship with other characters, but it seems I might be misinformed about his works.

Joyland mainly focuses on Devin’s heartbreak, the girl he thought was the one and everything was perfect. You know your typical young adult, love struck thinking that never seems to be correct. This heartbreak really affects Devin, as all first heartbreaks do, but then he meets single mum Annie and her son Mike. Mike is such a great character and probably the only one I actually liked within the book and the relationship between the three blossoms in a somewhat awkward way. I felt like King had a good handle on the difficult relationship but some of the directions he took left me perplexed. This plot arc took up about two hundred pages and that only left 80 pages to really return to the mystery of Joyland.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I feel this book wasn’t marketed properly, this is not a noir style mystery and I don’t think it deserved to be put in the Hard-Case Crime series. As a standalone Stephen King novel I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it wasn’t marketed the way it was. Interestingly King didn’t release this book in eBook format, he wanted everyone to go into their local bookstore and buy the book. Yet he didn’t restrict the sales of the book on those online bookselling websites; so really his attempt to get people into bookstores failed. Don’t go into this novel expecting pulp, this is a coming of age story, with a dash of attempt at the pulp genre.

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain

Posted October 28, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. CainTitle: The Cocktail Waitress (Goodreads)
Author: James M. Cain
Series: Hard Case Crime #109
Published: Hard Case Crime, 2012
Pages: 270
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Joan Medford is a young beautiful woman in an unhealthy marriage, but when her husband dies in a suspicious car accident, does that mean her life will improve? No, she now has to take a job as a cocktail waitress to make ends meet and somehow make enough money to finally be able to take her son back from her mother in law. On the job, two men take a special interest in her, one really gets Joan’s blood racing and the other is a very wealthy older man who tips very generously if she gives him her attention.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge James M. Cain fan; The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity are two classic noir novels that I highly recommend but there is another side to this author. Cain wrote a very emotionally charged noir novel called Mildred Pierce which makes up the top three essential Cain novels. The Cocktail Waitress really reminds me of Mildred Pierce, you have all the noir elements plus the female protagonist not to mention the emotionally charged plot. This is a previously unfinished novel by Cain but don’t let that worry you, he did finish the novel but he had not finished the revisions before he died, but it took over thirty years for this book to finally come out. The editor, Charles Ardai used Cain’s notes to finish the revisions of this book and it still reads and feels very much what you expect from a book by this Noir master. He was even quoted in saying; “Together with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain is universally considered one of the three greatest writers of noir crime fiction who ever lived, and for fans of the genre, The Cocktail Waitress is the Holy Grail. It’s like finding a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a lost score by Gershwin – that’s how big a deal this is.”

Joan is everything you want from the protagonist; strong, witty and beautiful. She knows what she want (her son back) and she is determined to make her life better on her own. But the drama of working in a cocktail lounge might be a little too much for her. Her mother in law is now convinced that cocktail waitress is just code from something more. Joan’s on a mission and won’t let anyone or anything stand in her way; which makes her a great femme fatale.

The Cocktail Waitress is a fast paced, hard hitting novel with complexity; a well-crafted book that was just a joy to read.  I loved the sinister elements that transported this from just an emotional journey to a classic James M. Cain style noir novel. I’m so glad that Charles Ardai took the time and effort in finishing this book so we can all enjoy it. If you liked Mildred Piece then you are going to love reading The Cocktail Waitress.

“Here, long after anyone would have expected it, is the voice of James M. Cain, as fresh and as relevant as ever. The Cocktail Waitress will involve you, and then shock you with an ending you’ll never forget. This is a true rarity: a reader’s novel that’s also a literary event.” – Stephen King