The lobby was air conditioned, and the rug was the kind you sink down into and disappear in without leaving a trace. The bellhops moved silently and instantly and efficiently. The elevators started silently and stopped as silently, and the pretty girls who jockeyed them up and down did not chew gum until they were done working for the day. The ceilings were high and the chandeliers that drooped from them were ornate.
And the manager’s voice was pitched very low, his tone apologetic. But this didn’t change what he had to say. He wanted the same thing they want in every stinking dive from Hackensack to Hong Kong. He wanted money.
–From Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block
Crime fiction is one of of my life’s great pleasures. Not the Agatha Christie detective stuff, although that’s fine, too, but the hard-boiled pulp stuff–Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy. Deceptive dames, backstabbing partners, corrupt cops, con artists, pistol-whippings, heists, heroin, porn rings, prostitutes, and corpses–the darker world that lurks just below the surface of our own.
I share this love with Charles Ardai. Ardai made a good bit of money founding Juno and cashing out via merger during the dot-com boom. He then decided to do something much more important than another tech company–he founded Hard Case Crime, which began publishing in 2004.
Hard Case Crime reprints lost pulp gems and publishes new fiction in the same vein. What first drew me to the line was the outstanding cover art, modeled after the golden age of paperback publishing and sometimes using artists from the era. It’s not all just flash (and flesh), though–in this instance, you can judge a book by its cover. The quality of Hard Case Crime’s output is outstanding. I have read twenty-one of their books so far, with only one disappointment–a Stephen King novel that was likely sent to a smaller publisher because it was experimental (the experiment failed).
The love the publisher has for this genre and these books shines through in every aspect. In addition to the high-quality prose and cover art, Hard Case Crime offers subscriptions just like an old pulp magazine, and Charles Ardai wrote me back personally when I sent him a suggestion for a reprint.
I have only one objection to Hard Case Crime–it’s too much of a good thing. Like those old pulp magazines, they publish about once a month, which means when I get busy, they stack up pretty quickly. I’m twenty-nine behind.
Hard Case Crime has just published its fiftieth book, Fifty-to-One, by Ardai himself (who also wrote the fine Little Girl Lost for the imprint under the name Richard Aleas). It contains a color gallery of all fifty Hard Case Crime covers in the center, and each of the fifty chapters is named after one of their novels, from the first, Lawrence Block’s Grifter’s Game, forward to Fifty-to-One. One more labor of love celebrating fifty of them.
Congratulations to Hard Case Crime and Charles Ardai on the occasion of their fiftieth book. Keep sending them to me, and I’ll try to get caught up. Maybe I’ll be there when A Hundred-to-One is released.
I’ve put a few examples of their wonderful cover art below the fold.
You can see all of their great covers here.