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Other titles in the Hard Case Crime Novels series:
Lemons Never Lie (Hard Case Crime)by Richard Stark
Synopses & Reviews
This classic by Stark, the celebrated alter ego of MWA Grandmaster Westlake, tells the story of professional thief Alan Grofield, who turns down a heist, then has to defend himself and his wife against the attacks of a fellow thief he spurned.
"Classic noir fiction offers a dark, violent world devoid of mercy or sentiment. Take, for example, the closing lines of Mickey Spillane's 1948 'I, the Jury,' when Mike Hammer gut-shoots the woman who killed his Army buddy. 'How c-could you?' she gasps, and Hammer replies, just before she dies, 'It was easy.' That's pure, down-and-dirty noir, and there are those of us who love it, but noir continues... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) to evolve far beyond what Spillane or James M. Cain or Jim Thompson gave us. Consider these two novels. Each has its roots in noir, but each author puts his distinctive spin on a tale of violence. The prolific Donald E. Westlake is perhaps best known for 'crime caper' novels that were sometimes filmed ('The Hot Rock,' 'Bank Shot'), but writing as Richard Stark he also has published more than 20 hard-core noir novels featuring a criminal named Parker. In six of those Parker has a sidekick named Alan Grofield, and 'Lemons Never Lie' is one of four novels that feature Grofield on his own. First published in 1971 and now reissued, 'Lemons' is a sweet mix of noir and humor. The underlying joke is that Grofield is an actor who owns a summer theater in rural Indiana. The theater leaks money, so he moonlights in crime to support his love of the arts. At the start of the novel, he runs afoul of a psychopath named Myers. One thing leads to another, and Myers rapes Grofield's wife. At that point, the story becomes the generally nonviolent Grofield's quest for exceedingly violent revenge. There's plenty of gore in 'Lemons Never Lie' — a couple of people have their throat cut, and one man is dispatched with a pitchfork — but Westlake keeps injecting his offbeat humor into the mix. One chapter begins: 'Grofield sat naked on the motel room bed, reading a biography of David Garrick that he'd lifted from the local library.' 'Lemons Never Lie' is a delight — a crime story that leaves you smiling. Call it noir light. Matthew F. Jones' 'Boot Tracks' starts out like classic noir. Charlie Rankin, fresh out of prison, checks into a cheap hotel where a key and an address await him. He has agreed to kill a stranger for the man who was his protector and lover in prison. He goes to a bus station and uses the key to claim a package that contains cash and a gun. Along the way, we are treated to quick bursts of noirish prose: 'Two silver teeth at the front of the guy's mouth caught the light as he talked around a half-a-thumb-length cigarette.' On a bus, he meets Florence, 20: 'She had blonde, spiky hair; prettiness marred by what seemed to be a permanently stunned look.' The heart of the novel is the bizarre relationship between these two losers, and it is enlivened by some of the best lowlife dialogue this side of Elmore Leonard. This, for example, after Rankin for no particular reason has told her his name is Samson: 'You got somebody, Samson?' 'Somebody how?' 'Like how I ain't got nobody, 'cept an ex.' 'I had a dog.' They go to her apartment. She asks if he'd like to watch a porn movie. 'You got one that's any good?' he asks. 'I got one starring me, how's that?' They watch the movie, in which she is dressed, briefly, as a Catholic schoolgirl, and she warns him not 'to mix an artist up with their art.' She adds modestly that it's not really her, cavorting on the screen, it's her alter ego, LuAnn. Florence feels a meaningful connection between them, but Rankin has other priorities than romance — he has to kill a man. It is here that Jones first deviates from classic noir, which I take to be lean, focused and fast-moving. The killing scene takes 50 pages — a quarter of the novel — but it has to because Jones has much to show us. First of all, Rankin is an extremely incompetent assassin. He has an address, but the street is dark, the houses are large and widely spaced, and when he finally chooses one, he's not at all sure it's the right one. He blunders around in the dark: 'For the third time in ten minutes he'd lost the .38.' Worse, when he finally overpowers the man and woman in the house, he imagines that he is taking revenge on his mother, a prostitute, and her brutal lover, who often beat Rankin when he was a child. We learn that both in his childhood and prison Rankin has suffered serious abuse. This, too, deviates from classic noir, in which some people are just no damn good and we don't need to examine their unhappy childhood's to believe it. Our hero, now shown to be both homicidal and nuts, returns to Florence, who continues to think she's found true love, despite Rankin's warning: 'You know what's good for you you'll stay off me.' But Florence is an impassioned Christian who thinks her love can save Rankin. They have exchanges such as this: 'What proof you got of Him?' 'I got nothing without what I feel. I feel Him, Samson, like I feel your good soul.' Clearly, no good can come of this relationship, but Jones keeps us guessing as to which disaster will ensue. 'Boot Tracks' is a strange but artful novel. I hesitate to call it literary noir — is that a contradiction in terms? — but it is certainly literate noir, and Jones, who lives in Charlottesville and has written other well-regarded novels, is a writer worth meeting." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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When theater owner and professional thief Alan Grofield refuses to help Andrew Myers knock over a brewery, he must protect his family from this angry criminal who vows to get revenge. Reprint.
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