Friday, February 03, 2006

Hard Case Crime

I was in the outer office, standing by the files, doing some research on a blackmailer, when he came in, all six feet of him.
He wore a plaid coat, carefully tailored, pleated slacks, and two-tone sport shoes. He was built like a secondhand soda straw, and I heard him say he wanted to see the senior partner. He said it with the air of a man who always demands the best, and then settles for what he can get.

Erle Stanley Gardner, Top of the Heap (1952)

"All right," she said. "I have to take a chance on somebody if I'm ever going to do anything about it, because I can't do it alone—and I think you're the one. It'll take nerve and intelligence, and it has to be somebody without a criminal record, so the police won't have their eyes on him afterward."
"O.K., O.K.," I said. I knew what she meant. Somebody who wasn't a criminal but who might let a little rub off on him if the price was right. It was a lot of money, but I wanted to hear about it first.
She studied me with speculation in her eyes. "There's a reward for the return of it."
She was sharp. I could see the beauty of that. She was showing me how to do it. You thought about the reward, first; when you got used to that you could let your ideas grow a little. You didn't have to jump in cold. You waded in.

Charles Williams, A Touch of Death (1954)

Ah, Hard Case Crime. These were the first two books sent in my new subscription, and both are excellent examples of the hard-boiled detective story.

The Gardner features a private eye, while the Williams features my favorite noir hero, the ordinary guy who gets in over his head. That's the kind of main character who naturally limits the frequent tendency among mystery writers to make the protagonist an idealized version of the writer himself. Instead, you get an ordinary Joe who is forced to find hidden reserves of strength, resourcefulness, and cunning—or hidden depths of dishonesty, cravenness, and violence.

And all because, as always in such books . . .
I'd had plenty of warning about her. But I didn't realize it in time.

2 comments:

  1. This is fun. A search at Powells.com for "Touch of Death" gets a list of the following titles:
    1) Death Touch: The Science Behind the Legend of Dim-Mak
    2) Touch of Death
    3) Fist of Fear, Touch of Death
    4) Feathery Touch of Death
    5) You Can See the Light: How to Reach Eternity and Return Safely
    6) What Death Can Touch

    ReplyDelete
  2. whereas the first result in google is: Is the "Ninja Death Touch" real?

    ReplyDelete