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Dan Simmons

Saint Martin's Minotaur

US Hardcover First Edition

ISBN 0-312-27497

263 Pages ; Price $23.95

Date Reviewed: 02-12-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel




01-25-02, 02-14-02, 04-15-02, 5-30-02, 10-08-02, 02-25-03, 04-30-03, 10-22-03, 10-29-03

One of the pleasures -- and challenges -- of reading Dan Simmons work is that you never know what to expect inside when a book has his name on the cover. Will it be a science fiction epic ('Hyperion', 'The Fall of Hyperion', 'Endymion', 'The Rise of Endymion'), an American horror novel ('Summer of Night', 'Children of the Night'), a horrific international mystery ('Song of Kali'), a fact-based historical spy novel ('The Crook Factory') -- or something entirely different? This time around it is the final answer, something entirely different. 'Hardcase' is a hard-boiled suspense novel. This is not some wussy English professor's imitation. It's the read deal, ground down to the bare minimum. Once you open it up, don't plan on sleeping. It'd probably be best to avoid confrontation as well. Dan Simmons will put you in a bad-ass mood.

True to form -- a form that I can't claim to be intimately familiar with -- 'Hardcase' offers up a framed and wronged ex-con, Joe Kurtz, a no-nonsense dame who is his secretary, Arlene, a retiring mob boss, Don Byron Farino, and a stone killer known only as 'The Dane'. Take the con out of jail, have him enlisted by the mob boss to track down a missing accountant, but make sure that your seatbelt is fastened securely. Simmons takes us on a violent, whirlwind tour of Buffalo, with plenty of gritty detail that keeps the action authentic. But he doesn't over do it. Nothing is overdone in this sparse, spare novel.

Simmons' writing in 'Hardcase' is unlike any prose you've ever read in his novels before. It's positively eerie, almost as if the spirit of one of his hardboiled progenitors had possessed him. The pleasures of this are many. It gives Simmons a chance to sketch some of the most interesting characters he's created in acid-edged prose. Doo-Rag and the Alabama Beagle Boys, Don Farina and his hotter-than-hell daughter Sophia all stroll through the pages and into your brain like crisp B&W Polaroids. It's a picture perfect performance.

The perfection of Simmons' execution may be the only real problem with the novel. Simmons fans have some to expect something different from this incredibly talented writer, but this turn may be too far, too fast, and a bit too simple to those who loved his luxuriant epics. For anyone who loves great writing, expertly done, however, 'Hardcase' is a bullet to the brain you won't want to miss.