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[BOOK REVIEW] ‘DEATH COMES TOO LATE’ IS A TENSE COLLECTION OF TREATS

Read Time:3 Minute, 49 Second

Death Comes Too Late

Written by: Charles Ardai

Published by: Hard Case Crime

Advance Copy Provided for Review

“The five o’clock news offered several headline stories. None of them was about an airplane explosion above the runaway at JFK. This made Leland Somers, who was watching the news from a hotel room in Chicago, nervous.

If the plane had blown up, as it had been supposed to, the blazing wreckage would have been featured at the top of the hour. Instead, the lead story had been something about prime lending rates and the Federal Reserve. News teams love fiery footage, Leland knew, and do everything short of setting their own explosions to get it. There was no way they could pass up a story as big as this. Unless there wasn’t any story.

No news was bad news.”

Lots of prose genres and readers have a healthy relationship with the short story format. Author and Hard Case Crime founder Charles Ardai points out this very fact in the introduction to Death Comes Too Late. A new collection of 20 short stories from Ardai, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the throwback imprint.

Ardai also smartly points out that most crime fiction fans get their starts in the genre with the short story. Taking in the likes of Ellery Queen and Sherlock Holmes, before “graduating” to more complex, longer form stories and never looking back. However, with this new collection, Ardai makes a damn strong case for looking back. As each story in this collection brings the goods, culminating in a richly readable celebration of capers, bullets, and hard luck “heroes” that has sustained the publisher for going on two decades.

Though not the first of Ardai’s works the publisher has given (and certainly not the last), Death Comes Too Late cuts right to the quick of why we love this stuff. While also allowing the author/editor-in-chief an ample stage to display his own talents with the genre. Collecting for the first time in one volume a darkly delicious buffet of shorts that don’t confine themselves to just crimes and whodunits. In fact, one of Death Comes Too Late’s best selling points is the elasticity it displays throughout.

Surely, there is that pulpy, classically Hard Case Crime element to the experience. Stories like the opening “The Home Front” and “Jonas and the Frail” provide plenty of period flavored gumshoeing and two-fisted tension that delights. Tales like “Mother of Pearl”, about a former seller of penknives in 1945, and “Nobody Wins”, in which a Rondo Hatton-esque palooka enlists a detective to find his lost love. They start to stretch, morphing the conception of what a “crime” story could be.

Which then Ardai starts to luxuriate in. Delivering completely unexpected angles and hooks from each story to the next. Never once taking a stock route or paint-by-numbers approach to any one of them. From there we get experiences like “The Case”, where the above excerpt originates. A blackly hilarious tale about a fatal mix-up at the airport baggage claim. Or “Game Over”, a mournful slice of 80s New York following the misadventures of two arcade-obsessed youths. And, my personal favorite, “The Deadly Embrace”, which simultaneously provides a nifty look into what it would be like to be an P.I. in a superhero universe while also dishing out some incisive satire aimed at work-for-hire comic book jobs.

Better still, these aren’t even the tip of Death Comes Too Late’s iceberg. Each story is it’s own surprise. Yes, they could all arguably be called “crime” stories. But I feel the real strength of this celebratory volume is just how varied it’s offerings are, while still feeling right at home under the Hard Case Crime banner. Its like you buy the ticket for one ride, and then end up getting about two dozen different ones. But every one is satisfying and some version of thrilling.

Some might be sadder than others. Some might be more action-packed than the previous avenues. But ultimately, you are really just damn glad you bought the ticket in the first place. Because you couldn’t have predicted any of the places you just barreled through.

Belabored metaphors aside, Death Comes Too Late is a wonderful celebration of everything Hard Case Crime is capable of. From mysteries, to capers, even to occasionally beautiful examinations of wayward humanity, Charles Ardai keeps you guessing. And keeps holding high the standard of the short story.

Death Comes Too Late by Charles Ardai is available now from Hard Case Crime. 

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0.00
9.4

An Unexpected Anniversary Celebration

9.0/10

Each Story, a New Experience

9.0/10

Punchy, Powerful Prose

10.0/10

Easy to Burn Through

9.0/10

Wholly Hard Case Crime (and a Lot More)

10.0/10
Justin Partridge
partridge.just@gmail.com
Lover of table top RPGs, prog rock, and anything with Walton Goggins in it. Find his other blathering at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
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