Showing posts with label Hardman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hardman. Show all posts

Monday, December 3, 2018

Hardman #02 - The Charleston Knife is Back in Town

Author Ralph Dennis began the 'Hardman' series in 1974 with "Atlanta Deathwatch". The book would kick-start a beloved 12 volume run of detective novels. Dennis used racy Atlanta as the backdrop for his two crime-fighters - Jim Hardman and Hump Evans. Recently, author and genre enthusiast Lee Goldberg acquired the publishing rights to 'Hardman' for his imprint, Brash Books.

You can read the review for “Atlanta Deathwatch” here. The second entry, “The Charleston Knife is Back in Town” (1974), features an introduction by author Joe R. Lansdale for its reprinting. It's the same intro used on the reprinting of the series debut, one where Lansdale clearly segregates the 'Hardman' series from what he considers a rather disposable 70s men's action-adventure genre (he has some disdain for adult westerns and his own work on the 'M.I.A. Hunter' titles). Lansdale is a fan of Dennis and his opening remarks about the series are

“The Charleston Knife is Back in Town” starts with the obligatory heist. This time Hump Evans is invited to a posh neighborhood for a little gambling party post-prize fight. Once there, he's escorted by gunpoint to a dark room sans his $700 of WAM (that's slang for Walk Around Money). After the robbers leave and the cops arrive, Evans embarrassingly shows up at Hardman's house to explain his night's turn of bad luck. It turns out that the gambling festivities involved many underworld honchos – all taken for over $700K in assets. Heads will roll. 

Soon, Hardman and Hump are contacted by a friend's sister with a possible connection to the heist. She fears that her young nephew was behind the robbery and may be a mob target. Our two detectives accept some payment and learn that the mob is coming down hard on the robbers. They have big money in place with a demand that the heist crew be taken down...real messy. The novel is a smooth and calculating read as Hardman and Hump navigate whore houses, strip clubs and dives to track down the robbers before the hired slasher.  

This series, and its second installment, showcases this Atlanta author's penchant for the crime noir. Building the novel around the heist is a vintage staple, but the spin here is having the protagonist attempting to save the crook. The sense of urgency increases with each chapter as the hired killer devours the clues. Ultimately, you know Hardman and this knife-wielder will face off - but it's how and where they meet that makes for an intriguing development. Kudos to Ralph Dennis, and Lee Goldberg, for recognizing what makes the detective formula effectively click. This is a mandatory read.

Purchase this book HERE

Friday, August 31, 2018

Hardman #01 - Atlanta Deathwatch

Atlanta native and author Ralph Dennis launched the 'Hardman' series in 1974 for Popular Library. The debut, “Atlanta Deathwatch”, introduces us to the series hardmen, the aptly titled Jim Hardman and his African-American “protector” in Hump Evans. The series ran 12 volumes, finishing with “The Buy Back Blues” in 1977. In December 2018, Lee Goldberg’s Brash Books imprint will reprint these classics starting with the debut:

While certainly dressing the part as the typical 1970s armed-action fare, this debut showcases a much deeper narrative that doesn't quite match the stereotypical cover. Sure, the book has the #1 plastered on the jacket, complete with a painting of guns, car chases and a female hostage, but under all that, I would theorize that these books were planned as stand alone mystery novels that happened to feature the same sleuths. With the popularity of 'The Executioner', I'm sure the publisher rode the marketing wave and presented this as another men's adventure series instead of the straightforward mystery that truth-in-advertising ethics would dictate. 

Jim Hardman was an Atlanta detective who lost his gig when his girlfriend Marcy fingered him as an accomplice for her crooked employer. Now, Hardman is an out of shape, financially-strapped everyman taking odd jobs for cash. With a bit of anti-hero flavoring, Dennis has Hardman running drugs up to New York for cash while taking “private eye” type jobs to pay the rent. 

Accompanying him is Hump Evans, an ex-NFL player who hit hard times and is in financial dire straits himself. Evans is the enforcer, often playing strongman to protect Hardman from the inherent danger of these odd jobs. For 1970s Atlanta, there is plenty of racial tension that spills over into the investigations. Often, Hardman is canvassing black bars and needs Evans front and center. Other times, it's Evans as the minority in the all-white bars probing bit characters for info. So, what exactly is this Atlanta Deathwatch? Well, that part of it is fairly complex.

Hardman takes on a small job watching Georgia Tech student Emily Campbell's activities. Her father is concerned with her well-being and poor academics and pays Hardman to play spectator. It seems innocent enough until Emily winds up dead in the backseat of a car. Before Hardman can even begin piecing together clues, he's forced into a job by a black crimelord simply called The Man. This mysterious criminal was Emily's lover and he's paying Hardman and Evans to locate her killer. Along the way, they run into Emily's former lover along with more criminals associated with The Man. Emily's father, ex-lovers and politicians are all suspects, but as the clues pile do the bodies.

Ralph Dennis has a real passion for the mystery genre and
'Hardman' possesses all of the key elements that make up the genre – plenty of suspects, a riveting whodunit question, strong characters and enough momentum to keep the reader second-guessing the prior clue's validity. What really sets these characters apart from the jacket's misconception is just how average they are. In one hilarious scene, Hardman is attacked by two enforcers in a car. It's written in the first person and our protagonist reminds us that in these unfortunate situations, the only thing he can do is fart while vomiting all over himself. 

Hardman is a poor lady's man – losing Marcy and then somehow gaining her affection/sympathy again. There's not even big guns, knives or fists here. Hardman carries a .38 revolver, and former star athlete Evans is a shotgun man. In fact, the author could have easily ran with Evans being the stereotypical 70s black guy. However, Evans isn't conveyed that way to the reader. I kept thinking of an O.J. Simpson sort of character...”gray” in a time when black and white were clearly defined. 

Some have compared the Hardman series to both Robert B. Parker's 'Spenser' as well as Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled 'Mike Hammer'. Regardless of influence, Ralph Dennis clearly has a lot of talent and provides the reader with an enjoyable mystery novel that finishes with a bang. I'm already on the lookout for book two.

Buy a copy of this book HERE