William Ard wrote a two-book series starring Danny Fontaine - an actor turned ex-con trying to make a life for himself in New York City. Those books were As Bad As I Am (1959 - also released as Wanted: Danny Fontaine) and the second book, When She Was Bad (1960). Ramble House has released the two Danny Fontaine books in a single trade paperback as Two Kinds of Bad with a helpful introduction by Francis M. Nevins. I’ve been dying to explore the first Fontaine book, and the reprint made it an easy lift.
As Bad As I Am opens with 30 year-old former stage actor Danny Fontaine being paroled from prison where he just served five years for beating a muscle-man to death because the meathead was being rough with a girl. We learn early in the novel that Danny’s Achilles heel is his desire to help women - regardless of legalities, and this affliction has landed Danny in jail before. Because of this, a condition of Danny’s parole is that he can’t date or have sex with a woman for the 18 month term of his supervised release.
Danny warms up to the idea of getting back into acting, and, of course, meets a girl in the process. Her name is Gloria, and the aspiring actress is the hottest little dish - and sweetness personified. When Danny becomes a murder suspect, Gloria is the one he turns to for shelter and a base of operations to establish his innocence. Late in the novel, they turn to a Manhattan private eye named Barney Glines to help clear Danny’s name.
Earlier in his career, William Ard wrote two books under the pen name of Thomas Wills starring a private eye named Barney Glines. Those two books were: You'll Get Yours (1952) and Mine To Avenge (1955). Later, when Ard began the Danny Fontaine series, Glines becomes a major character in the short-lived franchise. Ard basically created his own little Marvel Universe of overlapping series titles shared between his own name and a pseudonym.
In any case, Private Eye Barney Glines is, by far, the best character in this Danny Fontaine debut. He’s a funny, self-confident, can-do guy who takes control of the situation and helps navigate Danny out of his mess. It’s not a fast-moving thrill-ride of a paperback, but I still enjoyed As Bad As I Am. Ard was an awesome writer and he unfolds his plots really well - even when there’s not much action taking place. The dialogue and characters were vivid and real. I’m told that in the second book starring Danny, When She Was Bad, the jailbird becomes a private investigator working for Barney’s firm. I can’t wait to read it and tell you about it.
William Ard probably would have written more books starting Danny Fontaine after the second installment, but the 37 year-old author died of cancer in 1960 ending a promising career as an edgy and innovative voice on the crime fiction landscape. For my part, I’m just thankful that some of his work remains available today. Ard was a powerhouse talent in a crowded field, and he deserves to be remembered.
The title As Bad As I Am comes from a traditional Scottish toast:
Here’s to you, as good as you are,
And here’s to me, as bad as I am;
As bad as I am and as good as you are,
I am good as you are, as bad as I am.
Buy a copy of the two-book compilation HERE