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