The Black Ice Score, by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

The eleventh novel in the famous Parker series, The Black Ice Score (1968) once again features the inventive criminal on a well-planned burglary with a messy and violent aftermath. This time, however, he is hired as a consultant and stays out of the burglary itself. Only when his girlfriend Claire, now a major character again after missing the bulk of The Green Eagle Score, gets kidnapped by a rival gang does Parker get his hands dirty.


David Drummond cover for The University of Chicago Press.

The fact that Parker is missing from the actual heist appears to be a source of disappointment for some readers, and the thief does get left out of a few chapters. However, the burglary features Parker’s meticulous planning, and the characters who steal the diamonds–a pair of educated young Africans attempting to recover the cash reserves of their home country–are of particular interest to Westlake. Parker is not working with outcasts and perennial criminals this time. Continue reading

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Quarry’s Deal, by Max Allan Collins

NOTE: This review is of the third book in the Quarry series, which has been reprinted by Hard Case Crime. It is about a free-living professional hit-man of the 1970s, told in the first person. Although the Quarry titles look like they can be read out of order, I discuss the plots of the first two volumes, Quarry and Quarry’s List, in this article.


Berkeley edition.

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Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner

Of all of the major SF writers of the “New Wave” period that spanned from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, few (if any) matched the productivity of the British novelist John Brunner (1934-1995).* He published a large number of standard-looking space adventures, but he is remembered for a handful of ambitious and serious volumes, including The Whole Man, The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and most of all, Stand on Zanzibar (1968). A couple of years ago I started reading Brunner’s work, after encountering the rich stack of reviews on the sites Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations and Potpourri of Science Fiction.

Before SoZ, my favorite Brunner had been his 1974 novel Total Eclipse, about a large team of scientists working under the growing realization that their government was abandoning them. The feeling of doing hard research under the pressure of a dissolving support structure was deeply familiar. So when it came time to tackle Brunner’s award-winning magnum opus, I took the job seriously enough to first pick up and read John Dos Passos’ volumnous U.S.A. trilogy.

U.S.A. is the 1930s literary work whose stylistic inventions where adapted by Brunner for SoZ. The experimental sections of structureless stream-of-consciousness prose amounted to little more the interference, but on the whole I found U.S.A. to be an impressive monument to the people of the early 20th Century. Brunner follows Dos Passos’ lead in chopping up character-driven narratives with newsreel-type segments, quotes (from fictional works of the future) and side stories, but with more control; I didn’t feel the need to skim over any segment, except for a couple of truly odd passages.


Cover by S.A. Summitt, Inc. for Doubleday.

As keenly pointed out in the blog Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it, the stylistic advances of SoZ have been celebrated but are less important than its substance. I add here that Brunner also drew inspiration from U.S.A. when it came to investing an impressive amount of detail into building his Earth of 2010. Just as Dos Passos utilized the lingo, prejudices and other characteristics of the WWI-era Americans, Brunner came up with a whole variety of technologies, social trends and neologisms to paint the future.

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The Gutter and the Grave, by Ed McBain

Hard Case Crime has published a few early Ed McBain books, which first appeared in the 1950s under other pseudonyms. McBain is most known for his long series of 87th Precinct police procedurals, but these early standalone titles also have their fans. I found his publishing caper Cut Me In entertaining and the man-on-the-run drama So Nude, So Dead a bit less so, but both were works of a capable genre writer. Hard Case Crime bundled each of those novels with a short piece featuring an alcoholic private investigator named Matt Cordell.

The Gutter and the Grave (1958) also features Cordell, and it is the only full-length Cordell novel that I know of. From the beginning, we are told that he is defined by his alcoholism:

The name is Cordell.

I’m a drunk. I think we’d better get that straight from the beginning. I drink because I want to drink. Sometimes I’m falling-down ossified, and sometimes I’m rosy-glow happy, and sometimes I’m cold sober–but not very often. I’m usually drunk, and I live where being drunk isn’t a sin, though it’s sometimes a crime when the police go on a purity drive. I live on New York’s Bowery.


Richard B. Farrell cover for Hard Case Crime.

Cordell is met by an old acquaintance of his, back from his years in decent society. This man, Johnny Bridges, is a local tailor with an attractive wife and another classmate as a business partner. This partner, Dom Archese, has been a great help to Bridges and the business, helping the shop grow profitably. However, cash has lately gone missing from the till, and Bridges wants Cordell’s help investigating the matter.

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Quarry’s List, by Max Allan Collins

But I did have a system. Not an alarm system; nothing more than my own built-in alarm, which comes from those rice-paddy warfare years I suffered through, where you learned to sleep light unless you didn’t care about waking up. The best warning system depends not on electronics, but on devious thinking. You have to be smarter than the guy trying to break in. That comes from Vietnam, too, I guess: the tendency to think of psychological and even guerilla [sic] warfare rather than more conventional, unimaginative means.

The second of Max Allan Collins’ Quarry series, published recently by Hard Case Crime as Quarry’s List but originally (1976) given a plot-revealing title, continues some months after the first one left off. I write about the setup and premise of books in my reviews, so the ending of Quarry is going to be “spoiled” in this article. I previously wrote about Quarry in a spoiler-free manner, however.


Cover by Robert McGinnis for Hard Case Crime.

The top quote encapsulates much of what the Quarry series has been about so far: it is a first-person perspective of a hit-man who tends to survive alone on his instincts, having done so successfully in the Vietnam War. We do not know exactly what his war experience was; he evidently went through several harrowing experiences, maintains a kind of guerrilla combat-readiness and feels alienated from normal society. The second entry in what was by then a series intended to span several volumes, Quarry’s List develops the character’s solitude and pragmatism (and, maybe, solipsism).

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Captive Universe, by Harry Harrison

A theme running through many Harry Harrison (1925-2012) titles is the battle of an enlightened individual against an all-controlling state apparatus. His Deathworld and To the Stars trilogies feature a can-do protagonist attempting, and mostly succeeding, to “solve” the metaphorical puzzle of a planet his spaceship lands on. These books appear to include commentary targeting the inequalities of industrialized capitalism; the tyranny of the privileged and wealthy. This, as pointed out in the SF Encyclopedia, would seem at odds with the political views of his initial editor John Campbell, but their relationship went beyond cursory differences.

Captive Universe (1969) is another tale of the individual against the state, and has an arguably “Campellian” flair. Here, the actions of a young Aztec named Chimal get him in trouble with the priests who rule his village. Inhabitants of one village are strictly forbidden to interact with those of the other village, and both reside in a wide valley sealed off from the world by a rockslide.


Paul Lehr cover for Berkeley Medallion.

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Eyes of Fire, by Michael Bishop

Eyes of Fire (1980) is a remake of Bishop’s first published novel, A Funeral for the Eyes of FireEoF was meant to be the replacement, and the only version to exist in post-1980 editions. I read the earlier version a couple of years ago, and it has been my least-remembered Bishop story. This is possibly due to an overcrowding of characters and settings, and it seems EoF is more methodical in introducing the various players and alien societies.


Gene Szafran cover for Pocket Books.

The plot of EoF is actually quite simple but surrounded by layers of indirection. My paperback edition contains a map and a roster of characters to manage the initial chapters. Continue reading

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