Onyx reviews: Hardcase
by Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons is the chameleon of modern fiction. Whatever genre he attacks, he
takes on its local coloring as if it were a second skin. Lately, his books have
strayed more into the crime/mystery/suspense realm, though he is reportedly
working on science fiction retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Past works have been inspired by the poetry of Keats and T.S.
His genre-shifting doesn't always please his publishers, who would rather
pigeon-hole an author so they can market a new book based on a previous success
in the same genre. Simmons is not sufficiently well known that he can do
whatever he wants in the industry. His books have a strong following, but he
must still satisfy the whims of publishers. When he turned in Hardcase
to Harper Collins, they 'handled it with fire tongs before sending it back.'
This is why Hardcase is a St. Martin's Press release and why he
originally planned to release it under a pseudonym.
Hardcase is billed as a 'Joe Kurtz' mystery, making it sound like
the first in a series, which, reportedly, it is. Simmons's previous novel, Darwin's
Blade, was a suspense novel with a hard edge. Hardcase
is hardboiled crime fiction distilled down to its barest elements—sharp
dialog, compact action, plenty of violence. Simmons calls it the latest in his
shift toward deep noir.
The book opens with P.I. Joe Kurtz throwing Eddie Falco out a sixth floor
window, his body landing on a police cruiser. The cops were responding to calls
about the prolonged altercation, which included Kurtz shoving Falco's hand in
the garbage disposal. Falco had been responsible for the rape and murder of
Chapter two leaps forward eleven years to the day Kurtz is released from prison.
Even behind bars, Kurtz's life was complicated—he was involved in a killing
and became the protector of a member of a crime syndicate, Steve Farino.
Kurtz needs work and wrangles his prison favor into an audience with Farino's
father that leads to a well-paying job: investigating the disappearance of the
mob's accountant. The Farino mob is not entirely stable—there are power plays
going on among family members, including a struggle between Don Byron and his
attractive but ruthless daughter. Someone is also hijacking trucks involved in
their drug trade.
Getting involved with the mob may not be the best career move for Kurtz. It has
him at odds with the cops, other mobsters and members of the family itself. At
the same time, Kurtz has to keep looking over his shoulder for the dwarfish
brother of the man he executed who is intent on revenge.
Hardcase sings like a Robert B. Parker detective novel or a Donald
Westlake caper. There is a bevy of colorful characters, including a homeless man
who speaks Latin, a knife-wielding albino hitman known only as "The
Dane," and Kurtz's loyal and capable assistant, Arlene Demarco, who tends
to the new office Kurtz establishes in the basement of a porno shop. Kurtz is a
hardcase, but the title refers to something else altogether that will play a
pivotal role in the climax.
At 275 pages, the book is lean and taught. Every word counts. Wear your oven
mitts when handling this one! Simmons is more than a chameleon—he does not
merely wear the trappings of genres, he explores the nucleus of what makes a
genre work and pokes at its boundaries to see where he can expand it to a new
level. This isn't Chandler or Hammett, but it possibly reflects how they might
have written if they had been writing in the twenty-first century.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007. All rights reserved.