on March 30, 2007
Dan Simmons writes Science Fiction (he won the Hugo award for Hyperion in 1989). Dan Simmons writes Horror (Bram Stoker Award, Carrion Comfort). Dan Simmons writes Fantast (World Fantasy Award, Song of Kali). And Mr. Simmons writes detective fiction.
These different genres mostly have different writing styles. Instead of trying to force one type of writing into another genre, Mr. Simmons changes his colors, adjusts his pacing, wording and style for the hard-core nasty world of private investigation.
Hardcase is the first of three (and we hope more) Joe Kurtz novels. Hard Freeze (A Joe Kurtz Novel) and Hard as Nails (A Joe Kurtz Novel) are the other two. Joe Kurtz isn't mean and nasty, but he also has no compunction about sticking a man's hand in a disposal or running over an unconscious man's legs. Kurtz has his own code. Getting out of jail after following that code, Kurtz throws himself in the middle of a Mafia mess that he learned about in prison, and starts churning up the mob and old acquaintances.
The pacing of this novel is well done, the dialogue believable. The plot integrates several subplots well, although some of the plot twists are tipped off early (ain't this called foreshadowing?).
I also liked how Mr. Simmons slides in a reference to one of his other books, The Crook Factory, about a spyring in Cuba run by Hemingway (see page 221 in the paperback for the reference).
Language and graphic violence make this an unsuitable read for kids. Everyone else will enjoy it.
on January 30, 2003
This is a Mike Hammer type plot - the story leaves bodies strewn about the landscape as villains often get what they deserve. Joe Kurtz, former private investigator, has just been released after serving 11 years in prison at Attica for brutally murdering a man who raped and killed his girlfriend. He learned to use computers while in prison and is now setting up a legitimate investigative service.
Joe met the son of a mafia don while he was in prison. Now the family has secretly hired him to find out what happened to their accountant, and who is hijacking their trucks. Joe finds himself confronting enemies, both known and unknown, including friends and families of people he had previously killed plus a police officer who would like to send him back to prison. There are double crosses and a triple cross.
The novel has language, graphic sexual content, and a large amount of violence including shootings, stabbings, throwing people from heights, and setting one person on fire. Some cases of violence and injuries are overly descriptive. The story is R rated if not X rated.
on November 19, 2002
Simmons will always be an author i respect. first, because he wrote the Hyperion series. and second, because after giving birth to such an amazing body of work, he packed up his bags, waved good-bye to his fans, and followed his whims and wants as he very well pleased.
few authors today even attempt such a coup. even fewer can get away with it, and still get published.
that said, i didn't enjoy Hardcase nearly as much as i wanted to. i was expecting a literary equivalent of the movie 'Payback' - which, in my opinion, is one of Mel Gibson's best roles, in his later years anyway. and for the most part, that is how Hardcase feels in the beginning.
yet at some point in the story, everything starts to feel just a little _too_ contructed; Kurtz keeps one-upping the thugs and suits that are after him, and you begin to wonder just how foolish everyone else is as compared to him; and in the very end, there's so many twists and turns - you almost expect the theme from Mission Impossible to ring up, and everyone to rip of their faces and reveal their true selves!
for the sake of brevity: you can taste Simmons' fine sense of craftsmanship behind this novel, and that alone puts it above and beyond many of its kindred. that very craftsmanship, however, starts to feel a bit too polished, as if in his attempt to fulfill the genre, Simmons overdid the construction of its basic elements.
so the book gets 3 stars, while i still have 5 on hold for Simmons, cause i know that SOB will keep writing no matter what!
on October 2, 2002
After reading the reviews from many of Dan Simmons' ardent fans, I'm convinced that I stumbled in the right direction when HARDCASE became my first Simmons read. That's not to say that I won't peruse his offerings in the other genres however, it seems that HARDCASE is a really nice intro for an author new to me.
As a precursor to the book, Simmons' dedication reads: "This is for Richard Stark, who sometimes writes under the wussy pseudonym of Donald Westlake." Well, that'll nab one's interest. Simmons takes a lash at Westlake (who conversely writes under the pseudonym of Stark) right off the bat. However, it is obvious that Simmons' statement is tongue-in-cheek. Regardless, the dedication defines the book's impending aura of "in your face" entertainment.
As the book opens, we meet Joe Kurtz, a hardboiled Mike Hammer-type private investigator. Kurtz is tracking the second of two men who killed his partner...well, not tracking, stalking is a better word. By the end of the intro chapter, Kurtz has all but mangled Eddie Falco when he decides the coup de gras is to throw Falco out of his sixth-story apartment window. Without much ado, Kurtz heads to Attica for an extended stay at the state-run luxury resort.
While in Attica, Kurtz meets Steven "Little Skag" Farino, the son of aging Buffalo, New York, mob boss Don Byron Farino. As a "reward" for protecting Little Skag's manly pride from unwanted jailhouse affection, Kurtz gets an audience with Don Farino upon his release from prison. Don Farino, now crippled from a would-be assassin's bullet, is still clinging to a denigrated level of authority and power he used to hold as the feared boss of one of New York's elite organized crime families. Kurtz makes a deal with the Don to locate the Family's missing accountant. Without too much detail, it is obvious that the accountant knows way too much to be "missing." Don Farino's attorney, Leonard Miles, is introduced to the reader and immediately stakes his position as consigliere while ruffling Kurtz's feathers. Kurtz, in form to be consistent throughout, lashes back at Miles with dripping sacrcasm and challenging lines. It is apparent from this exchange with Don Farino, his consigliere, and all the bodyguards present that Joe Kurtz takes no issue with stating his current frame of mind regardless the potential consequences.
With the storyline framed, Simmons leads the reader down a path fully expected of a hardboiled PI like Kurtz. While Simmons takes the reader on a violent tour of the Buffalo underworld, the action and noir detail keeps the storyline fresh and taut. But, one of the chief assets of this Simmons' offering is his character development, and what characters they are.
As a short list there's Malcolm Kimbunte, a sadistic killer-for hire; Cutter, Kimbunte's psychopathic sidekick; Doo-Rag, a gangbanger and Kimbunte's lackey; the Alabama Beagle Boys, brothers from an Aryan Nation organization; Sophia Farino, Don Farino's sultry, hot daughter; Pruno, a homeless junkie informant who used to be a Princeton professor; the Dane, a faceless hitman with a ubiquitious reputation; and a dwarf named Manny Levine, hell-bent on avenging his brother's death at the hands of Kurtz. There are just a few of the snapshot characterizations within this relatively short thriller.
This is hardboiled noir at its best. The only downside is a less than perfect ending. Simmons was somewhat cathartic in his need to exhaust the storyline, which, in my opinion, detracted from the climax found in the second to last chapter. This is the only reason this book is sitting with four, instead of five stars.
If you're looking for the hardboiled noir genre, you've found it here. Simmons' Kurtz makes Spillane's Hammer look wimpy. This was a fun, fast and action-packed read. Recommended to anyone enjoying hardboiled noir.
on September 29, 2002
Ever heard of Dan Simmons?
Simmons' first published story, "The River Styx Runs Upstream," won the Rod Serling Memorial Award. His first novel, Song of Kali, won the World Fantasy Award. His first horror novel, Carrion Comfort, won the Bram Stoker Award. His first science fiction novel, Hyperion, won the Hugo Award.
Even with all the awards, I was only vaguely familar with his work. I don't read fantasy, and very little science fiction or horror. I do love a hardboiled thriller though! You know, the kind written by Vachss, or Izzi, Hunter, or Stark... or Simmons. That's right! With one book, Simmons has jumped to the top of the list!
Joe Kurtz was a PI... before he was an ex-con. See he killed a man, a couple of men actually. They'd murdered his girl and unborn child. While it's pretty reasonable to me that he threw one of 'em off a six story building, the jury didn't see it that way.
Now, out of prison after eleven-and-a-half years...
...you'd think things would be looking up for Kurtz. You'd be wrong. Too many people want him dead...
Hardcase is the best novel that I've read this year [tied with Jack Kelly's Line of Sight].
Ever heard of Dan Simmons?
My prediction is that you will. But remember that you FIRST heard about him here!
on September 5, 2002
In Hardcase, Dan Simmons writes his version of a Parker novel. The Parker novels are a series of books by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) featuring a tough and stoic thief. In Hardcase, Simmons features a tough and stoic ex-private eye named Kurtz. Even the dedication of the book makes it clear who's steps Simmons is following in.
The novel itself is a fast and fun read with the same cool attitude that Stark/Westlake has perfected. Kurtz, out of prison after a term for killing his lover's murderer, gets mixed up with the Buffalo mob in his attempt to get back on his feet. Kurtz is not a nice guy, but the people he opposes are far more unpleasant.
For Simmons, an accomplished writer of some rather sophisticated books (such as the Hyperion books), this novel must be a quick diversion. While fun, this book is also not very original and Kurtz sometimes pales next to Parker (I imagine if the two met, it would not go well for Kurtz). Nevertheless, it is good enough that I will continue to read these books, of which there will be at least one more.
on January 10, 2002
If you're after a hard-boiled mystery / thriller with violence galore, then this is the book for you.
It's about Joe Kurtz, a ruthless, tough, near-psychotic private investigator who has just been released from prison after serving an eleven-year sentence for a brutal murder. He's trying to pick his life up again using contacts he made in prison. The fact that he isn't allowed to work as a PI, own a gun and is still on parole doesn't deter him in the slightest. He is also carrying a bounty on his head after making some enemies in prison. There seems to be no end of takers willing to try to cash in.
The job that Joe is pursuing is an investigation into the disappearance of an accountant to a local mafia boss. On top of that, the trucks used by the family to smuggle electronic goods, keep getting hit and destroyed. Joe offers his service to find the accountant and solve the problem. The problem with offering himself for the job, however, is that he has knowingly walked into a pit of vipers and must try to keep one step ahead of the game to survive.
Joe occasionally shows a touch of remorse before killing someone, but whether it's because he is taking a life or because of the hassle in having to clean up afterwards is never made clear. He is a character who is totally loyal to friends and family, yet deadly ruthless to his enemies.
The actual storyline is compelling, if dark and desperate. From the first page, I was drawn in and hooked so the pages simply flew by. It's a hectic, tension-filled story that doesn't fail to entertain.
on November 17, 2001
Dan Simmons has made a name for himself as a writer of very cerebral science fiction and horror novels. Lately however, he seems to have taken to reinventing himself as a mainstream genre novelist (if there is such a thing) and to this end he has written a superb novel of World War II espionage (The Crook Factory), a mediocre urban legend novel (Darwin's Blade) and now with Hardcase, a hard boiled gangster novel.
Joe Kurtz murders the drug dealer who killed his girl friend. It's a revenge killing and Joe makes sure that he gets every ounce of revenge going. The murder is brutal, excruciatingly painful and bloody and, for Joe, enormously satisfying. He gets eleven years in Attica jail, but they pass in the turning of a page.
When Joe gets out, he uses the contacts he made inside to wangle a job with a Mafia big boss. The boss wants Joe to track down one of his comrades who has vanished with a lot of the Mafia funds. It seems straight forward, but there are wheels within wheels, loyalties within loyalties and Joe is soon up to his neck in ultra-violence. Everyone wants him dead.
The tension never lets up and the violence never ends. Blood drips off the page, agony screams from every chapter heading, mangled bodies litter the paragraphs. The carnage never stops.
It's a dark, dismal novel and I felt slightly dirty when I'd finished it.
on September 6, 2001
Though Dan Simmons's previous novel 'Darwin's Blade' was better, I feel his foray into this mystery/thriller genre was well worth it.
Joe Kurtz is an ex private investigator doing time for a homicide. He has survived over 11 years in Attica with a 10,000-dollar bounty on his head, which was offered by the Mosque brothers when he killed one of their own. After his release he decides to offer his services to the local mafia don, Byron Farino. It seems Farino's accountant has gone missing. When Farino decides to hire Kurtz, that's when the fireworks start. The 10,000-dollar bounty offered to kill Kurtz is still payable on the outside; so on top of looking for the missing accountant, Kurtz is dodging bullets from an assortment of bad guy's. Everyone from the drug lords, to the Alabama Beagle Boys, seem to be after a piece of the Kurtz pie.
A fast-paced and oft times violent novel. The character of Joe Kurtz seemed to lack depth. The story itself must have lacked a little depth because it read like a sequel. I liked the varied characters and the quick and snappy dialogue. No wasted speech here.
Overall an easy to enjoy, quick read, delivered by an author that's done better work.
on August 11, 2001
Simply put, Dan Simmons can write circles around just about anybody out there. As he's proven in the past, to both fans and critics, it's impossible to pigeon-hole him. Regardless of the genre, Simmons dives in head-first and produces a novels as good as any of the writers who work in just that genre. Books like the "Hyperion" saga and "Carrion Comfort" have cemented his reputation in the SF and horror circles, and with "Hardcase", he flashes his credentials as a writer of the hard-core detective novel.
It's disheartening to see comments from fans of his SF/horror works who may see his recent efforts ("Crook Factory", "Darwin's Blade" and "Hardcase") as toss-offs, not worthy of his reputation. But for every disappointed SF/horror fan, I'm sure there's a mystery or pulp-fiction fan adding Simmons to their "must read" list.
As much as I liked "Hardcase", and would definately read another Kurtz novel, (how 'bout a little cross-over action between Kurtz and Andrew Vachss's character, Burke? Talk about body counts!!), I hope that Simmons will keep up his chameleonic ways, and that his next book will be another surprise. And I have to agree, that of all his previous work, this one would probably make the best movie. Who knows, it could do for Simmons what "Jurrasic Park" did for Crichton. He'd been writing for decades in relative obscurity (outside his circle of loyal fans, anyway), but after JP the movie, book stores couldn't keep even his worst stuff on the shelves. (Has anyone else ever read "Eaters of the Dead" aka "The 13th Warrior"? Ugggh!)
Simmons' "Hyperion/Endymion" books are problably my favorite SF novels, and I think "Carrion Comfort" is as good, if not better, than anything Stephen King has written, and the fairly obscure "Phases of Gravity" is a wonderful example of Simmons facility with straight fiction (how he can pack such an emotional punch just by having a charcter open his eyes is amazing, even after additional readings). Of his recent work in the various flavors of mystery/thriller, I'd say "Hardcase" is the best.
They used to say about Sinatra that he could sing the phone book and make it entertaining. Well if Simmons _wrote_ the phone book, I'd be the first in line for a copy. Whether you're a fan of SF, horror, thrillers, myteries or straight fiction, if you're not reading Dan Simmons, I feel sorry for you. You're missing out on a truly amazing writer.