Sunday, December 07, 2008

Books: A Pair of Hard Cases

Steve Fisher netted an Oscar nod for Destination Tokyo, and his name appears on the writing credits of some interesting noir films. Dead Reckoning with Humphrey Bogart. Robert Montgomery’s ill-advised first-person camera take on Chandler, Lady in the Lake. The singularly odd City That Never Sleeps, narrated by Chicago incarnate. He was also a novelist perhaps best known for I Wake Up Screaming, a tale of the showbiz margins turned into an offbeat B-movie.

Hard Case Crime has brought Fisher back into print with “a novel of Las Vegas,” and brother, is it a doozy. No House Limit (1958) is the story of Joe Martin, the last independent casino owner on the Strip. The Syndicate is out to break him, though, and to do it they’ve brought in Bello, gambler extraordinaire – but he’s only the opening salvo in the battle. It’s also the story of Mal Davis, the two-bit lounge act who falls hard for Bello’s girl.

Fisher knows the city inside and out. He opens each chapter with an icy, clinical paragraph explaining some facet of how Las Vegas actually works. And he takes pains to show that neon lights burn through small dreams as well as big ones. Throw in an afterword by Fisher’s son Michael that includes excerpts from his father’s original outline, and you have one of Hard Case’s best recent titles.

I’d been given the advance word on David J. Schow’s Gun Work by someone in the know a few months back: “pure gun porn.” The billing was accurate. Iraq war vet Barney heads to Mexico to offer what he thinks is help to a guy he considers a friend after the apparent kidnapping of said guy’s wife. Attentive readers may discern that all is not as it appears. An orgy of violence follows, leavened by Schow’s mordant wit and sharp turns of phrase. Fast, brutal, and over the top. Barney even learns a few life lessons. And there are luchadores. What more could you want?