Monday, June 3, 2013

Fifty-to-One (Charles Ardai, 2008)

There simply cannot be any other book representing 50th entry of this blog. It's a special edition celebrating 50th publication of our favorite Hard Case Crime publishing house, written by its editor and co-founder Charles Ardai. Taking place 50 years ago and very cleverly constructed in 50 chapters which are titled using titles of the HCC published books (in consecutive order!) And it is not subdued to this "anniversary" edition just in terms of form, also (and more importantly) its content is well aligned too since plot's main vehicle is publication of a "dangerous" book. And yes, it is published by the Hard Crime and yes, one of our main heroes is the publisher himself!

But wasn't exactly blown away by this one, maybe because I had expected too much since Little Girl Lost (first entry of this blog btw!) was so brilliant. I also like tough professionals as protagonists and I'm definitely not much into this "some shit happens to an average person" kind of stuff. First question that usually comes to my mind and usually stays unanswered is "Why the fuck doesn't she simply call the cops!?" Sorry to say, but Fifty-to-One is no exception to this rule.

For the obvious reason, it's long. And too fast moving - Tricia runs around frantically from point A to B to C to D and back to B and so on. Sometimes alone, other times accompanied with either Erin or Coral or Mike or Charley and bumping into all sorts of criminals and shady characters. It sounds good, but it doesn't work terrifically well, especially in the second half things start to get a bit repetitive and at times even confusing. I'm a bit surprised that Ardai wrote it in this linear fashion and concentrated so much on his leading lady heroine. True, there are two exceptions (literal transcript of a chapter from the book describing the burglary and Mike's report to Tricia) but the whole thing would probably turn out more suspenseful if chapters would be told by different narrators. At least is written very well and with lots of dialogues so it never gets boring. I wouldn't say that plot is exactly water tight, but it was interesting enough to made this quite a page turner.

Enough of this criticism, what the hell is wrong with me!? I shouldn't say anything negative about this special issue. It is Ardai's love letter to his 10+ years ongoing project and to pulp novels in general. I had immense pleasure in discovering cleverly disguised characters from previous books and HCC inside jokes (like where do unusually long feet on some covers come from). It brought back so many pleasant memories and - when checking out the gallery of covers - I was surprised that I've actually read just 25 of those first 50 books. Which is good as it leaves me lots of great stuff in the future.

3/5 for the book, 5/5 for the effort and concept and 10/5 to Hard Case Crime publishing!


Tricia Heverstadt aka Trixie. Although true hero is of course our editor Charley Borden. At the end he is considering changing his name and Tricia suggests something easy to remember, like Gordon or Arden. May I suggest "Ardai"?

NYC, late 50s

Body count
10, probably a stiff or two more because there are two shoot-outs (good guys vs. bad guys and bad guys vs. law enforcement) at the end and it's hard to keep an accurate body count.

Lots of them - Tricia and her sister Coral, Erin (I liked her a lot, she was a bit under-used in my opinion), Renata, Heaven, Reenie, few other dancers/boxing fighters etc

Blackouts: none

Another example of smart writing by disguising a title into the "50" concept. Fift-to-One is a sadistic game of cards that main villain plays with his victims. He picks up a single card from the deck and leaves his co-player with 50-1 odds to name the next one. You can of course imagine what happens with her or him in case it's not the right one... 

Totally accurate, it describes Erin and Charley from the scene on the page 36. Another great one by Glen Orbik

Cool lines:  
"Ladies, ladies, if I can interrupt this little tea party," Borden said, "we've got a big problem here. There are men - large men, angry men - who would be happy to do me great physical harm if I don't give them a piece of information you're telling me I can't give them. This is not an acceptable situation."

"Where are we going?"
"What's in Brooklyn?"
"Cheap rent," Erin said. "And plenty of bars. And what do you find where there's cheap rent and plentiful booze?"
"Artists," Erin said.
"Stella's  not an artist."
"No, Stella's a model.And who knows better where to find a model than artists?"

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