Saturday, August 23, 2008


By Charles Ardai
Hard Case Crime
331 pages
Available Nov. 25

Several years ago, Charles Ardai, and then partner Max Phillips, began Hard Case Crime, a publishing imprint dedicated to reviving lost pulp crime classics and showcasing new writers in the field. Now, with forty-nine truly amazing books under their belts, the debut of their 50th offering demanded something special and unique. Happily, Ardai was up to the challenge. Every chapter title in this book is taken, in order of publication, from the titles of those first fifty! I kid you not. And it is no little trick.

FIFTY-TO-ONE is one hilarious roller-coaster ride that never stops from page one to the finale. Ardai has tipped his fedora to the entire crime noir genre in this gem of a what-if tale that imagines Hard Case Crime having been started fifty years ago by a shady, unscrupulous entrepreneur named Charlie Borden. One has to wonder whimsically if he isn’t Ardai’s want-to-be alter ego as he writes him with so much conviction and panache.

One day a sweet, innocent eighteen year old girl from South Dakota arrives in New York and immediately runs afoul of this likeable hustler. Her name is Tricia and she’s smart as a whip. When Borden commissions her to write a true-life crime bio for him, he has no idea her book is going to be the catalyst that sets one of the city’s most notorious mob bosses after his hide, as well as the police. What follows is a plot with more twists and turns a bag of fresh baked pretzels. It is a thoroughly convoluted mystery tied into several sticky, but clever knots. All of which our unlikely sleuths have to unravel as they keep running through the streets and alleys of New York, always one short step ahead of mob and the law.

As crime fiction goes, FIFTY-TO-ONE may not win any prizes, but as a celebration of the entire genre, it is truly one of the most enjoyable books HCC has ever produced. Add to this fun the special full insert which reproduces all of their gorgeous covers to date and you have a book that should be a must read on everyone’s list. Personally I’m hoping when book 100 comes around, Charlie and Tricia will be back. I miss them already.

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