I continue to collect Hard Case Crime novels, even though I barely buy the new ones anymore. I worry sometimes about the spirit of the product but I know Charles Ardai and the folks there do good work to keep the imprint alive.
Because I have a backlog of HCC books, I’ve made a commitment to read once at least once a month. This month, I decided to start where it all began: Grifter’s Game, book #1 in the series. Originally published as Mona, it was one of the many Lawrence Block works that have been reprinted under the label.
Anyway, for about 85-90% of it, I thought it read like a decent imitation of Double Indemnity. It’s clear that Block, who was a young writer when he put this one out (it’s pulpy as can be) was aping James Cain’s legendary work. I don’t hold this against him. Macdonald started by copying Chandler, plenty of folks have copied off Hammett. Making it in that business means you gotta go with what works. And even back then, Block had talent, though this was long before he figured out his own style.
But this is a noir at heart. And perhaps because he was young when he wrote this, I doubted Block’s ability to bring it home. But dang…that ending. Noir as can possibly be. I didn’t expect it and it messed me up, like a good noir should. Obviously, I can’t say a word without spoiling it. But this is a quality noir in its own right. Don’t let the Cain imitation fool you.