Friday, September 10, 2010


By Paul Cain

Fast One is Paul Cain’s novel of corruption and underworld warfare. Like other hard-boiled novels of the era it is set in the grit and glory of LA, but instead of a PI dedicated to bringing a criminal to justice, this is a tale of an outlaw’s struggle to survive. Gerry Kells is a war-hero, junkie, gambler, and gangster who just wants to leave the rackets behind for a little peace and quiet. But it doesn’t work that way in LA. He is drawn into a spiral of violence as rival underworld factions use him as a pawn. Unfortunately for them Kells is nobody’s fool and mayhem ensues.

Cain had a good grasp of the loose structure of the LA syndicate. As in the real LA-LA land the cops and the crooks are mostly indistinguishable (look up LAPD Lt. Guy “Whistler” McAfee sometime). Gamblers skirt the law by putting their casinos on freighters anchored just off-shore (again a fact the LA scene). Rivals use scandal-sheet newspapers as weapons in the war for City Hall and control of the rackets (much like “Gray-Wolf” Charlie Crawford did until he was shot by a candidate for judgeship).

This is a dark tale, more in the spirit of Cornell Woolrich’s noir than some of the more obvious comparisons to Cain's fellow Black Mask writers Hammett and Chandler. Fast One is a hard-boiled gangster story that deserves to be better known.

-Dave Hardy

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