Ralph Dennis has a bit of a cult following among fans of hard-boiled crime fiction. I first came to hear of him through an excellent entry on the Hardman series on Paul Bishop’s blog. And I immediately began searching Used Book stores for books in the out of print series.
I go to used bookstores a lot… it’s like an addiction. Yet…
I have never seen a copy of any of them.
Ebay and other online retailers will occasionally post copies for steep prices.
For about the two years I’ve known of the series, I’d pretty come to think of these books as a Golden Ticket. Then something wonderful happened, Brash Books has gotten permission or rights or whatever to re-publish Dennis’ works. And they’ve started with the first five Hardman books.
My copy of Atlanta Deathwatch arrived on Christmas Eve.
The book includes an excellent introduction by Joe Lansdale, which makes a claim that the Hardman series suffered from the original publisher marketing it as a Men’s Adventure series (ala Mack Bolan The Executioner). The Hardman series was even “numbered” 1-12. Having read the first book, I can see the problem with that. Dennis’ prose is strong in a leaning toward Chandler way. However, I also see how it gets lumped in with Men’s Adventure (which I personally do not think of as a knock on the books). There is a tendency toward more violent action than you find in the typical Chandler or Ross MacDonald yarn. I think it goes beyond John D. in that regard, too…but it seems a little closer to a McGee story than a Marlowe. This is what my wife would call a “boy book.” Make no mistake about it.
Fortunately, I like “boy books”. One could argue that’s what I just wrote. But how is Atlanta Deathwatch?
It is fantastic. I’ve learned few things live up to the hype. Prior to Atlanta Deathwatch the last thing to live up to the hype was the Solar Eclipse.
Atlanta Deathwatch is the story of Jim Hardman (how’s that for a hard-boiled detective name?), a discharged ex-cop, and his buddy Hump, a former pro football player. Hardman is hired to follow Emily Campbell, a Georgia Tech co-ed who’s grades have tanked. Hardman follows her right into trouble at an African-American bar. The kind of trouble that leaves him pissing blood. Hardman’s no idiot, so he begs off the case. When Emily is found dead shortly thereafter, Hardman is drawn back into the dark underworld of Atlanta’s “Black Mafia.”
And we’ll leave the synopsis at that.
I love the Hardman-Hump relationship. The Black-White buddy thing worked in the Spenser novels…and it works here, too. Which leads me to wonder (and I’ll probably go look), which came first? Spenser/Hawk or Hardman/Hump. I generally don’t plan out much of my own stories, but I am fascinated where stuff comes from…and have often wondered whether my Uncle Rod/Fuzzy came from my love Spenser/Hawk (even if Uncle Rod is more like an African-American father figure)? It certainly didn’t come from Hardman/Hump, but only because I did not know about them.
The pacing is great. I read it over two nights, which seldom happens anymore. Dennis masters the balancing act of providing enough depth, but not burying the reader under needless details.
If you are a fan of “boy books”. Give Hardman #1 – Atlanta Deathwatch a try. I look forward to reading more of Jim Hardman’s adventures.
Thank you Brash Books for bringing these back!
It’s follow-up North Country Girl is coming in January 2019.
Jan 2 – 379 words
Jan 3 – 456 words
2019 Total – 1,566 words