Having just finished Dumas’ The Vicomte De Bragelonne I needed to take a breather. It’s a huge novel with a broad historical sweep. Much of the story concerns the courts of King Louis and his top nobles, and when the action decamps to Newcastle, England  it still brims with politics and intrigue. The romantic spirit in which it is written bombards the reader with flowery language and elaborate ornamentation. I checked Amazon for volume four, Louise De La Villeire and thought wait! Let’s break things up a little. With that in mind I resolved my second book of the year would be the polar opposite….
Readers, I introduce you to Easy Death. A short, low-class, grimy crime novel following a gang of small-town desperadoes pulling off an armoured car heist in the winter of 1951. It’s everything The Vicomte De Bragelonne is not. Where Dumas plots long carefully-coordinated intrigues, Boyd plots fast tawdry double-crosses. Where Dumas attends grandiose fetes held in castles in summer, Boyd has bottom-feeders crawling through the snow in the forest. It’s also just 236 pages of regular paperback so I read it in a single day.
Many of us are dissatisfied with modern mass-market fiction. Books reflect the spirit of the times, and popular books in particular. To be popular a book must get signed by an agent, pass the SJW-infested green-lighting in a publisher, get a marketing budget, and then appeal to the average moron who buys it  The Japanese have a word for an odd characteristic of the publishing business:
Tsundoku: The acquiring of reading materials followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them.
We are in a strange situation where many top-selling books are total shit and it doesn’t matter because the buyers aren’t reading them anyway. I tried a few of them, like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Steig Larsson’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. They are appallingly badly written, failing to meet even the most basic threshold of author competence . This is why I like older books. It’s a myth that book-writing is improving over time. Even a simple run-of-the-mill crime potboiler like Easy Death is written with greater poise than most of this year’s bestsellers.
I discovered the Hard Case Crime series ten years ago when I was drawn to the lurid painted cover of Max Phillips’ Fade To Blonde, the second in the series, in an Oxfam bookstore. I was immediately hooked. The editor, Charles Ardai, was faithfully reproducing the vibe of old 1950s pulp detective fiction. Half of the series are old books, sometimes out of print for fifty years, that are ‘remastered’ with new retro covers, and the other half are good crime writers publishing their new books especially for Ardai . I started reading the series from volume one onwards and noticed something odd.
I liked almost every book.
Different authors. Different stories. The only things the books had in common were (i) the theme (ii) the cover art and…….. (iii) the editor. I realised that Charles Ardai likes exactly the same crime novels that I do and he’d built an entire business upon dusting them off and presenting them in pretty, simple paperbacks. It was like having a personal shopper doing all the work for me! I’ve now read over 80 of them and have no intention of stopping now. So, Easy Death is the latest one to pass through my hardboiled detective fiction assembly line.
My first thoughts upon reading Easy Death were how effectively it conveys the situation. A local hood has hired underlings to hijack an armoured truck a few days before Christmas. Naturally, being hardboiled, things soon fuck up and spiral out of control. The entirety of the book takes place over twenty-four hours and never grows stale. Boyd keeps us continually aware of the foreboding snowy weather and lets it affect the plot constantly: characters make bad decisions because they don’t want to go out into the cold, a cop can follow a getaway car because of snow tracks, a ranger doesn’t buy a cover story because it doesn’t fit the weather, and characters trapped in deathly-cold scenarios take risks they wouldn’t in fine weather without the hypothermia clock ticking down. Snow isn’t merely window-dressing to the plot – it has a greater impact than any individual character does.
Speaking of characters, Boyd switches viewpoints a lot. Half of the book is in first-person from the cop chasing the robbers and the rest is third-person for the other characters. Boyd is especially good at foreshadowing. A chapter from one perspective will omit a detail or present a scenario that doesn’t feel quite right, and the next chapter has a different perspective that fills the blank and suddenly it all falls into place. I can’t give examples without spoiling the book, but take my word for it, it’s clever and it greatly improves dramatic tension.
I find good hardboiled crime fiction isn’t any where near as nihilistic or tawdry as it’s made out. Good writers have a way of teasing out nobility from the decisions characters must make. Dumas often slaps you in the face with it: high-ranking nobles expound at length on moral virtue and musketeers give soliloquies on duty and honour before crossing swords. I like it, but subtle it isn’t. Boyd puts at the moral core of Easy Death the unlikely teaming up of the first-responding cop and the stubborn female park ranger who guides him through the forest. It’s not a buddy movie. Their interplay is handled with subtly and depth, is never twee, and makes the same use of dramatic foreshadowing outlined earlier. They are likeable characters with complex morality.
Lastly, one reason I’m drawn to hardboiled fiction is the way characters influence plot development. Any of you who watched Prometheus or the most recent Game Of Thrones series were probably throwing things at the TV screen.
“People don’t act like that!”
There are few things as annoying as a character behaving completely out of character because the writer needs the plot to develop and can’t think of a better way than for a character to be retarded. Think of those elite scientists in Promotheus who see a really suspicious oil-covered swimming alien snake and think, “you know what, let’s take our protective gear off and start prodding it”. Think of Daenerys Targaryen finally returning to her ancestral home, right next to the base of her mortal enemy, and then taking the first small boat to its beach without first sending scouts 
Hardboiled fiction rarely suffers this problem, for two reasons:
1. The writers aren’t idiots. Every character is on the make and has an angle. Plotting and scheming bubbles below the surface from page one to the end. It’s part of what makes it ‘hardboiled’. Thus writers are acutely aware of how their characters will be ruthlessly self-interested and plan every move as carefully as a Hungarian Jewish billionaire.
2. The escape clause to the above is likewise built into the theme. Hardboiled deals with low-life scum and desperados in desperate positions. Therefore if you need a character to act retarded, you’ve always got some junkies or crash test dummies who can be cannon fodder for your plot. Additionally, you can simply have a scheming character miscalculate his odds.
Anyway, to conclude. I thoroughly recommend the Hard Case Crime series and this book is a solid entry, about average for the high standards of the series 
If you like how I think about books you should see how I write them. Go check out my author profile at Lulu.com for my textbooks and memoir series here.
 Yes, I loved that both volumes two and three resolve major plot points in my own home town. That was a very nice surprise to read in a French novel written in 1845, and nice to know Newcastle is the spiritual home of history’s greatest heroes then as well as today.
 If this sounds catty, look into the “bought not read” stats for book shops. I forget where I read them, so here’s a link to something I did find.
 Brown is especially bad at dialogue, and for giving the “travelogue” descriptions of location that every author is taught not to do. Larsson can’t write remotely believable characters and his plotting is nonsensical. That’s aside from his main characters being empty vessels for his own awkward gamma wish fulfilment.
 Sometimes big names too. Michael Crichton’s old crime novels written under a non-de-plume have all been reissued by Hard Case, and Stephen King has written two books specially for them. Max Allan Collins has also had all his old Quarry books reissued to support the new TV series of Quarry 
 I’ve watched all of season one and it’s excellent. Gritty hitman drama set in mid-70s.
 After reading the first 65 volumes in numerical order, I only disliked these three: Robbie’s Wife, A Diet Of Treacle, and The Corpse Wore Pasties. They aren’t bad books, I just couldn’t get into their styles.
 Don’t get me started on how retarded the last two seasons of Game Of Thrones have become. And how fat the weird-faced female cast have become.
 “Which entries do you like most?” Well, I’m glad you asked: Top Of The Heap, The Wounded And The Slain, Slide, The First Quarry, Passport To Peril, The Venom Business, Grave Descend.