Two unpleasant titles from Hard Case Crime

No sooner do I praise Hard Case Crime for being having consistently entertaining titles in their back-catalog than I come across a pair of books overstuffed with gratuitous violence. I understand that the genre has its lurid side – steeped in sex and gore and all – but most readers, I imagine, have some sort of limit for this stuff. That is not to claim that either book in this article is without merit; one features a series of very capably described action scenes, and the other made some strong subversive points. I imagine the net value of the reading experience for each will vary greatly on the reader, but I generally disliked both of them.


Gun Work by David J. Schow (2008) places an unusual amount of attention to the tools of crime, principally guns and tactical planning. An Iraq War veteran is called into Mexico by an old war comrade to help rescue his girlfriend from a gang of kidnappers. After obtaining an arsenal of guns, ammunition and an armored car, the two of them track the gang down for an honest shoot-out. However, they discover that the meet-up was a ruse, and our hero falls victim to a double-cross. Aside from the unnecessarily grisly aftermath of a murder of a prostitute, the details are meaningful. At this point (one-third into the book), I could appreciate GW as a smarter-than-it-appears crime novel disguised as a dumb action story.

The second part of GW is a rather prolonged description of what it would be like to be a prisoner of a Mexican kidnapping gang. Apparently, one or two of the criminals were upset about the events in the first few chapters, and some brutal scenes of torture ensue. This will mostly likely be the section of the book people point to when accusing Schow of being over the top here, but I view it as a rather honest counterweight to the gun fantasies.

The real problems occur toward the end, after the hero makes an escape from Mexico and meets up with acquaintances to set up bloody revenge. There is much discussion of weaponry and tactics, but on a larger and more detailed scale. I was not convinced that the crew of wrestlers plausibly belonged, and they put a silly spin on the proceedings. Worse still were the events that followed when the hero finally finds the original conspirators in a Las Vegas hotel room, after the rest of the cast of characters are somehow disposed of. It appeared tacked-on to the story, in service to whoever demands resolution to every plot point. I found GW more bad than good, I suppose, but it will be appreciated by bigger fans of guns and action. 4/10.



Michael Koelsch cover.

Borderline by Lawrence Block (1962 and earlier) is a collection of a short crime novel and some short fiction. I’ll focus on the featured novel in this mini-review, with the allowance that the stories are marginally better reading experiences (enough to change my rating by a point). Block follows several characters as they travel between the cities of El Paso in Texas and Juarez, which of course lies just across the border. A recent divorcee, a successful but bored gambler, desperate drifter and red-headed sex-worker all have superficially interesting stories, but their motivations are shallow and they all travel moment-to-moment. No real meaning is given by the descriptions of shows, beatings, rapes and other things that happen to them. This means that their stories are all overshadowed by the psychopath Weaver, who is on the run from the police after killing a teenager. A slave to his diabolical urges, Weaver wields a straight razor on more than one additional victim in Borderline before it’s over.

Obviously written for a cheap-thrills audience, Borderline includes moments of subversion, such as when the divorcee notices that the newspaper description of an assault uses vague language to avoid mentioning rape. Perhaps lurid fiction was one of the only places in media that would acknowledge the presence of rape in America, but this point is ephemeral. Borderline could be generally described as “lurid incidents that happen until whatever horrible thing Weaver does next.” I suppose I’m not really the audience for this book, even in some ironic sense. The other stories are less lurid but did not win me over as a fan of Block’s short fiction. As a whole, the collection here is borderline tolerable. 3/10.


Prior to these two books, I had enjoyed every entry in the Hard Case Crime series, so this post qualifies as a bit of a speed bump. It’s not difficult to find positive reviews for wither of these titles, but they were definitely not to my taste.

About pete

former academic scientist and presently a software engineer. Also, a science fiction and crime fiction book-blogger.
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6 Responses to Two unpleasant titles from Hard Case Crime

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