Sunday, April 25, 2010


By Raymond Chandler

“I was neat, clean, shaved and sober and I didn’t care who knew it.”

Raymond Chandler could make his words stalk off the page and into your life like a gimlet-eyed dame with a .45 in her purse and too many white nights in her past.

Anyway, before I start to sound like Robert Parker writing a pastiche with a WAY too short deadline, let me just say that The Big Sleep is deservedly one of Chandler’s best known works. He paints LA red with a lurid tale of high society, low company, depraved kicks, and noble intentions gone wrong.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, it is narrated by Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s fictional PI. Marlowe’s job, taken as much for a loopy sense of honor as for green semolians, is to look into the disappearance of Rusty Regan, General Sternwood’s son-in-law. Chaos abounds as the General’s daughters, Vivian and Carmen, do their best to muddy the waters.

The plot is a complex one, pulled together from short stories Chandler had sold to Black Mask. Honestly, sometimes the stitching shows. But the characters just pull you into their loony world and hold on until the tale is done. Along the way you find gems like “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts,” and, “using his strength like an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings.” Above all it’s Marlowe, the dogged PI, going back again to uncover, or bury, the truth as he must in the service of his odd sense of duty.

-Dave Hardy

Saturday, April 24, 2010


By Gustav Meyrink

Gustav Meyrink evoked the brooding spirit of Prague in novels rich with mystical symbolism, novels that might be coded with kabalistic messages themselves and capable of working a strange alchemy in their readers. Meyrink was a banker and man-about-town in fin de siecle Prague until series of duels and a false accusation of mishandling bank funds smashed the manacles of respectability that held him back. Thereafter he penned his odd novels mixing his Judeo-Buddhist mysticism with zestful fantasy yarns.

The Angel of the West Window relates the mystic quest of John Dee, the Elizabethan alchemist and secret agent, in parallel with the story of his modern descendant who finds his own life drawn onto the strange path his ancestor once trod. But the path to illumination is perilous and those who would pervert it to their own ends wait for the unwary.

Meyrink’s vision is a dizzying one. His work has been hidden behind a language barrier too long, and Meyrink deserves to take his place alongside Lovecraft, Tolkein, and Howard as a master of modern fantasy. First published in 1927, Angel and other Meyrink works were newly translated and reprinted by Daedelus in the 1990s.

-Dave Hardy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Strange reviews of the recent past

Since the old Fire & Sword website is defunct (well not defunct, just redirecting to the Fire & Sword blog), I've decied to revive a few reviews from there, because they were so good. OK, because I'm to lazy to write new reviews. In perfect candor, I always intended it to be an archive of reviews and commentary on books that I liked. I still like 'em, so why no post them here. Without further ado, here's my review of All shot Up by Chester Himes.

By Chester Himes

So you think Shaft was the baddest cat in Harlem? Well long before Richard Roundtree ever donned a black vinyl driving coat, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson were keeping it cool when things got hot.

Chester Himes was an ex-con who took to writing. He penned some well-regarded but very uncomfortable (for honkies) novels about crime and race. Eventually he moved to France in 1953 (except perhaps for Muslims, it seemed relatively less racist than America) and started writing for the local market for romans noir . The French didn’t know that all detectives were white guys who spoke entirely in snappy comebacks so they went for it.

Himes mixed deadpan absurdity with deadpan brutality. All Shot Up opens with a tire thief watching a solid-gold Cadillac driven by a guy in a coonskin cap run over an old lady. She gets up and is promptly sent flying by a coal-black sedan with three cops in it. The thief drops the tire and it keeps on rolling with the novel.

Himes follows up on that opening. The crime here is a pretty complex one, but that’s perhaps of less importance than Grave Digger and Coffin Ed’s rather ruthless methods of getting to the bottom of things.

This is excellent Harlem hard-boiled fiction, not a classical detective story or a police procedural, but an urban adventure tale. If you like tough-guy tales, you should have some of Chester Himes work in your library.

-Dave Hardy