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Hardcase

Reviewed: March 26, 2004
By: Dan Simmons
Publisher: St. Martinís Paperback
291 pages, $8.99

 

After reading Hardcase I am once again faced with the realization that Dan Simmons can write anything. Better known for his large scale epic of galactic science-fiction intrigue, the Hyperion Cantos, or even for his spooky forays into the worlds of vampires and monsters, Simmons has also done one mainstream WW Two novel based on the life of Hemingway, and a† criminal suspense thriller.

In Hardcase he takes on the hardboiled private eye genre and comes up with the nastiest anti-hero-hero since Donald E. Westlake wrapped himself in the mantle of Richard Stark and created Parker (not to be confused with Robert B. Parker, who created Spenser).

Joe Kurtz (whose name just has to be a nod to Joseph Conrad) explores the heart of darkness in the PI genre with an edge and focus that makes most of the other people who walk the mean streets look undecided. Heís a walking exemplar of that 23rd Psalm parody that you may have seen: Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil - for Iím the meanest SOB in the Valley.

The story opens 11 years in Joeís past, at the end of his last case as a licensed PI, the one where he took very personal vengeance for the death of his female partner and did things that got him sent to prison for a stretch. When he emerges back into the civilian world heís older, meaner, and a lot less patient, as many of the folks he runs up against in this story find out to their sorrow.

Joe has to operate on the edge of things, since he canít actually get a licence for what heís good at, and he canít carry an legal weaponry. In short order, however, he has an office, a gal Friday, and a case to work on, one that he contracted to carry out while he was in stir, one that has a pair of hired killers on his tail within two days of his release.

Obviously, they should have known better.

Simmonsí style on this outing is lean and muscular. Kurtz is something like a force of nature, yet he spent a lot of his time behind bars reading philosophy and probably came out of prison a wiser man than when he went in. He still sees himself as on the side of the angels, and anyone who gets in his way to do him harm will get more than they bargain for.

Arlene Demarco, the aforementioned gal Friday, is also as tough as nails and looks after herself quite competently in her part of the story.

As for the story, well, itís full of twists and turns and almost nothing is quite what it seems. Kurtz, for instance, seems to be following Spenserís modis operandi of just stirring things up to see what comes to the surface, but it turns out that heís much more canny than that. In addition, thereís a coda to the main story that comes out of nowhere and takes us right back to the bookís opening, something that I certainly wasnít anticipating.

Simmons walks this territory like heís given it a lot of thought, and makes it read as if he didnít have to think about it at all. Pleasantly enough, there are already two more books in this series, one in paperback (Hard Freeze) and the other in ... uhm ... hard covers (Hard as Nails). Iím looking forward to reading them.

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