Review: ‘Thieves Fall Out’ by Gore Vidal

Thieves Fall Out by Gore Vidal
Hard Case Crime (April 2015)

The Hard Case Crime edition of Gore Vidal's 'Thieves Fall Out.'

The Hard Case Crime edition of Gore Vidal’s ‘Thieves Fall Out.’

In 1953, Fawcett Gold Medal published Thieves Fall Out, a crime novel set against a backdrop of political unrest in Egypt. Written by an unheralded author known as Cameron Kay, this minor piece of pulp fiction came and went without much fanfare. It has remained in obscurity since then, unavailable in any new printing and unknown to all but a handful of readers and scholars who knew the truth: “Cameron Kay” was actually respected American writer Gore Vidal.

Vidal wrote the novel when he was 28, and reportedly never thought much of it. When the book came to the attention of Hard Case Crime founder Charles Ardai, he immediately approached Vidal about republishing it, but Vidal wasn’t interested. After the author passed away in 2012, Ardai approached his agent and estate and was granted permission to reprint the book. The new edition was released in April of this year.

If you remove Vidal’s name and legacy from Thieves Fall Out, what you’re left with is fairly standard pulp fare. It’s the story of Pete Wells, an American drifter of sorts who finds himself broke and just this side of desperate in an Egypt that is teetering on the edge of revolution. He becomes entangled with a woman named Hélène and a man known as Hastings; the pair have a job they need done and they feel Wells is just the man to do it. The duo remains disturbingly coy about what exactly the job is, but Wells is in little position to make demands, so he goes along with their scheme. Eventually it’s revealed that the pair are working to smuggle a valuable necklace out of the country, and Wells is their chosen vessel.

Fawcett Gold Medal's edition of 'Thieves Fall Out' by "Cameron Kay."

Fawcett Gold Medal’s edition of ‘Thieves Fall Out’ by “Cameron Kay.”

Of course, in fine thriller tradition, things are not quite what they seem. There’s a police inspector, incredibly (and distractingly) named Mohammed Ali, who may or may not be “on the take;” there’s a love interest, a woman with a Nazi background and a suspicious relationship with the Egyptian king; and there’s a shadowy puppet master named Le Mouche who may be friend or may be foe.

Thieves advances at a methodical pace – not to the point that it plods, mind you, but patience is definitely a virtue. The writing is uneven at times; the young Vidal proves adept at depicting both the beauty and the grit of the Egyptian setting, but stumbles over the occasional clumsy phrase. There are no big action set pieces to speak of, but things accelerate entertainingly towards the end. It’s the kind of curiosity that Hard Case Crime excels at producing: a peek into the formative years of a gifted and influential writer, and an enjoyable if not essential addition to the crime genre.

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Hard Case Crime plans February 2013 ‘Seduction’

Hard Case Crime seems to have settled comfortably into its new home at Titan Books, where it continues to publish some of the most intriguing and exciting titles out there for lovers of crime fiction. This week, HCC announced they will continue their long and fruitful relationship with author Max Allan Collins by publishing their eighth book together, Seduction of the Innocent.

The title may sound familiar; it’s also the title of the infamous 1954 tome by Dr. Frederic Wertham, in which the good doctor laid the blame for the “corruption” of America’s youth squarely at the door of comic book publishers – particularly publishers of violent horror comics like EC Comics. Collins’ tale is inspired by the real-life witch hunt that Wertham’s inflammatory book unleashed. Here’s the synopsis from HCC’s press release:

“Written by best-selling novelist Max Allan Collins (author of Road to Perdition and long-time scripter of theDick Tracy newspaper comic strip) and featuring 16 pages of interior illustrations by comic-book artist Terry Beatty (BatmanThe Phantom), SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT tells the story of comic book industry troubleshooter Jack Starr and his investigation into the death of a moralizing crusader out to get violent comics banned. “

If I’m not mistaken, this will be the first time a Hard Case Crime release will feature interior illustrations. The cover manages to capture both the pulp detective feel of all HCC books and the flavor of those EC Comics covers, and the HCC website states that the illustrations will be in “the classic EC style.”

I’m excited any time Hard Case Crime announces a new book, but this one feels like something special. The movement against comics that Wertham incited is a fascinating period of our country’s history, and I’m sure Collins is going to use that as a backdrop for a great detective story. The book is set for release in both paperback and digital formats in February 2013, and it can’t get here soon enough.

Stephen King’s ‘JOYLAND’ finds a home at Hard Case Crime

Hard Case Crime announced this morning that it will be publishing Stephen King‘s JOYLAND, the crime novel he’s mentioned at several recent speaking engagements, in June 2013. This will be King’s second Hard Case Crime release, following The Colorado Kid from 2005.

While Kid left some crime fans flat because of its ambiguous nature (it was, literally, a story about mysteries that have no solutions), the synopsis of JOYLAND makes it sound like a more traditional crime novel:

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, JOYLAND tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.

JOYLAND is a breathtaking, beautiful, heartbreaking book,” said Charles Ardai, Edgar- and Shamus Award-winning editor of Hard Case Crime, in the publisher’s press release.  “It’s a whodunit, it’s a carny novel, it’s a story about growing up and growing old, and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time.  Even the most hardboiled readers will find themselves moved. When I finished it, I sent a note saying, ‘Goddamn it, Steve, you made me cry.’”

The book will initially be published in paperback only – an interesting move for King, who has long been a dabbler in, and supporter of, digital publishing. King cites his love of paperback crime as the reason for the move, and considering that the entire impetus behind Hard Case Crime is to recapture the feel of those old spinner-rack crime novels, it’s a move that makes sense. The press release does not give a timetable for what I feel will be an eventual e-format release

There’s also no mention of special editions, but Hard Case Crime has been working with Subterranean Press as of late on special hardcover editions of their books, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see something announced at a later date.

The press release states that the book will feature a painted cover by Robert McGinnis, the artist responsible for the Sean Connery James Bond movie posters, and Glen Orbik, who’s painted numerous covers for Hard Case Crime (including the cover of The Colorado Kid). It’s not clear if there will be two covers, or if McGinnis and Orbik are collaborating on a cover, but hopefully we’ll know soon.

The Hard Case Crime line is published by Titan Books under the leadership of creator/editor Charles Ardai.

Finally, JOYLAND is a real place. It’s an amusement park in Wichita, Kansas, abandoned since 2006. As Buzzfeed writer Gavon Laessig noted when he first posted this a year or so ago, “This is the stuff that Stephen King novels and awesome roman candle fights are born of.”

Looks like he was right.

Hard Case Crime to release unpublished Westlake mystery

Once again, a round of applause to Titan Publishing for rescuing the Hard Case Crime line after the Dorchester Publishing/Leisure Books fiasco left Charles Ardai’s invaluable crime fiction imprint homeless in 2010. Hard Case Crime has become a wonderful curator of mysteries, thrillers and pulp crime novels both old and new, and its resurrection under Titan pays dividends yet again with this month’s release of The Comedy is Finished, believed to be the last unpublished manuscript from the late Donald E. Westlake.

The novel tells the story of a comedian who is kidnapped and held for ransom by a domestic terrorist group looking to have some of their members freed from prison. Westlake reportedly worked on the book throughout the 1970s, only to shelve it after seeing the 1983 Martin Scorcese film The King of Comedy, which shared the kidnapped comedian plot element.

“Aside from that one shared element, the two stories are completely different,” Ardai said in a recent press release. “But Don apparently was concerned enough about the possibility that some readers might see a similarity that he set the book aside and never published it.”

Hard Case Crime has published other novels by Westlake, including 2010’s Memory, which was believed at the time to be Westlake’s final unpublished work. Author Max Allan Collins, who cites Westlake as a friend and mentor, brought Comedy to Ardai’s attention.

The Comedy is Finished will be released on February 21 in both trade paperback and e-book formats.

Hard Case Crime announces first four books with Titan

The Hard Case Crime line of paperback crime novels was another victim of the Dorchester Publishing disaster in 2010 – but, much like the current king of zombies, Brian Keene, it’s rising from the ashes with what looks to be an incredibly strong comeback in 2011.

This year marks the first in HCC’s relationship with Titan Books, a UK-based publisher known primarily for big, oversized books on art and film. While it sounds like a strange fit when you consider the classic HCC packaging of a mass market paperback, all indications so far are that the distinctive look (painted covers, the yellow HCC ribbon) and format will be kept intact. Well, with a few exceptions – a story in Publishers Weekly has brought up the possibility that some HCC releases will be in the larger trade paperback format, and the first book in the relaunch, Lawrence Block’s Getting Off, will be the brand’s first hardcover release.

But, tweaks aside, Hard Case Crime is coming back strong with a quartet of releases beginning in September with the Block book and a second title, Mickey Spillane’s The Consummata. These initial releases will be followed in October by Quarry’s Ex, the latest in the popular Quarry series by Max Alan Collins, and Choke Hold, Christa Faust’s sequel to her Edgar-nominated HCC entry Money Shot. Covers and sample chapters from the new books, and from many of the previous books in the HCC line, can be found at their website.

The HCC line, with its mix of original titles and reprints, has long been one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to welcome it back to bookstore shelves later this year. Expect more here on the HCC front as we get closer to the publication dates.