"She wore a pale blue dress with cream piping, a dark blue belt, and a silly little schoolgirlish collar. She had nice straight shoulders. There was nothing wrong between them and her open-toed shoes, so I guess the trouble must have been somewhere behind those blue-gray eyes. They'd be trouble, of course. She looked up and called, 'Is your name, Corson?' " From the first paragraph, Max Phillips's pitch-pure ear sets the tone; we have entered a back-alley world where men are tough and women are easy; where dirty secrets clog the citadels of power. With its staccato dialogue and its strip-club fusion of sex and vengeance, Fade to Blonde ironically recalls a more innocent age.
Max Phillips has received an Academy of American Poets Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and his stories have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the Partisan Review, and the Village Voice, among other publications.
Forrest Devoe Jr. is the pen name of Max Phillips. In addition to cofounding the pulp revival imprint Hard Case Crime, he has authored one of its debut titles, Fade to Blonde, as well as the literary novels The Artist's Wife and Snakebite Sonnet.
So I’m reading this, and periodically glancing again at the cover, when it hit me...Hard Case Crime is like a bad-ass male counterpart to Harlequin Romances. Now I’ve never read a Harlequin Romance and Fabio still gives me the heebies and jeebies. Therefore, I don’t know if they are the literary equivalent of golden drops of liquid sunshine or if they suck so bad they cause brain hickeys and a loss of IQ. I just don’t know, so let’s leave quality comparisons sitting in the back napping with its feet up.
I’m referring to the format and that the series title is probably more of a selling feature than the author. I assume people who buy Harlequin romances will generally buy it because it is a Harlequin romance and not because a particular author wrote it. This is that kind of series, though I am sure the quality level varies.
I’m only two books in so take this with several pinches of salt, but this seems to be a series in which you can pick up any issue and know pretty much what you are going to get. Hard Case Crime is a high testosterone area (you can practically smell the musk) with fast-paced and, so far at least, well thought out plots. You have guys with square-jaws and broad shoulders and women with big hair and bigger bigguns..... and plenty-o-crosses (doubles, triples and possibly even a quadruple but I am still charting the math on that one).
Having finished two book in the series, I have developed my first rule for future reads which will be in effect until disproven:
RULE #1: Extremely hot women CAN NOT be trusted...ever...no matter what...no, you are not the BEST she’s ever had...that is a lie....NO Mr. “I’m Special” you are not the amazing “in the sack” jockey that is going to win her over with long, slow, deep wet kisses that last three days (thanks Bull Durham, that quote just came in handy again). You are not the exception...you are the rule...she doesn’t love you....she never will...she just wants you to kill someone for them so they can get lot’s of money and leave you holding your twig and berries. Are we clear? ...yes...ARE WE CLEAR?...crystal (thanks A Few Good Men, that one was helpful too).
....More rules to follow as the develop...
Anywho, Fade to Blonde (cool title by the way) takes place in Hollywood. I don’t recall a date being given but my crack deduction skills have me placing it late 1950‘s. Ray Corson, failed screenwriter turned bodyguard, is hired by Rebecca LaFontaine, former stag movie starlet turned hatcheck girl, to protect her from her former boss, small time mob hood and fledgling porn king, Lance Halladay.
Ray says yes because he is obviously oblivious to the existence of RULE #1. Ray then joins up with the local syndicate, headed by one of my favorite characters in the book, Fausto Burri, in order to learn what he can about Halladay...and we are off and running.
That’s about it for the set up. From there, the plot thickens like molasses and heats up into a terrifically steamy “noir” mystery. Corson is a very likable character who has a serious temper when it comes to righting wrongs and carries the story very effectively. You like him and that’s important. Rebecca Fontaine is also terrific as the mystery woman with more layers than a government conspiracy. You hate her, that’s also important.
I was hooked from the beginning and the story just flew by without so much as a pause. There was some funny “noiry” dialogue that I am really digging and some laughs as well. This was not as good as the first book in the series and my “O Face” did not make an appearance. However, I was expecting a bit of let down from the master-piece that was Grifter's Game and I was still impressed with this one. Very enjoyable and I am now officially hooked. 4.0 stars. RECOMMENDED!!
Ray Corson is a laborer and former boxer who gets mixed up with Rebecca LaFontaine. Rebecca's on the run from a guy that wants to burn her face with lye. Too bad Rebecca's an expert on lye. Or is that lie?
This one has quite a few twists and turns. I didn't see the ending coming even though I knew Rebecca was so full of crap she could barely go farther than five feet from the toilet. Still, a lot of guys would have been taken in like Ray was and it's easy to see his way of thinking. The writing is engaging, so good that it makes you forget you're reading one of the modern Hard Case books rather than one of the vintage ones.
Dammit, blondes should definitely not be forced to fade away. Instead, the little vixens filled with honey and curves and dimpled noses should prance around from town to town just for the hell of it. I have no idea why, but I continue to be fascinated by women with honey-colored hair. If I’m being truly honest, though, I don’t discriminate if she’s brunette, or raven-haired, or a redhead, but for whatever reason blondes pack a little extra wallop when I step in the ring.
So, yes, I liked Rebecca LaFontaine even I couldn’t trust even six words out of a sixty word monologue that she might spout off to me between the sheets. FADE TO BLONDE felt like a true icon in the midst of my two star slump fest. But it had more bite to it than a piece of chocolate covered in chili pepper. Ray Corson had an attitude that just wouldn’t quit, and the pages clipped along faster than a pair of scissors through tissue paper. So I did what seemed appropriate: I gripped my chair with both hands and held on tight. The dialogue had more firepower than a machine gun; there wasn’t a spineless character to be found; the race was over in record time and it was nearly a photo finish.
The ending was a blow to the gut and a jammed toe, but in a good way, and I may have lost a tooth before the ride ended. But I did manage to keep myself apprised of the situation, even if I had to blow my nose on more than one occasion. If you like your cases hard and your women loose, then find yourself a video camera and saddle up my friend, because this is one ride where you might want to hold on tight.
This is the second in the Hard Case Crime series. Each installment is a throwback to pulp crime fiction and feature bad behavior, cigarettes and at least one woman with loose morals. It is not a series in the traditional sense and books are written by a wide array of authors and are taken from the past and present. The series spoils the reader by featuring a Lawrence Block novel as the first installment and I should not have expected the same quality in each novel. This is the only book I have read by Max Phillips and will likely be the last.
Bachelor, loaner and part-time roofer Ray Corso is approached by a mysterious and sultry Blonde with a job offer. The blonde bombshell goes by the name of Rebecca. She tell a story of mistakes and missteps. Needing money, she starred in a couple of adult films. This was not something she wanted to do, so she escaped the clutches of the evil film producer. Upon leaving, the producer threatened to burn her face and Rebecca need someone to attack the producer before he attacks her. The story follows Ray through seedy bars, a drug house for the wealthy and connects him with the mob. There are plenty of lies and no one is whom they seem and it all wraps up with violence.
If you are expecting a gritty and atmospheric novel, you will be disappointed. It certainly had the potential to be an interesting tale but the plot suffered from a severe case of ADD. Was this a mob tale, a murderer for hire tale or a PI tale? The author seemed unclear and left me scratching my head. The fact is that most of the many directions the novel took were interesting. The problem was that the author could not stick with one. Had he focused on one or two of these varying plot points, the novel would have been better on the whole. It was a short novel at around 220 pages. All these plots changes would have been acceptable in an 800 page novel but loses the reader in a short one. All that said, it did win a Shamus Award for best PI Paperback Original. For what its worth, someone liked it enough to give it an award.
The preferred method of writing was staccato, machinegun speech. There were so many short sentences the book began to feel like a long running knock-knock joke. While it was interesting at first, it quickly became tiresome.
My final issue was that in between the many plot changes, there was...nothing. Nothing happened. There was conversation and meandering but it took the story nowhere. Read any of my reviews, I have a bias for meandering stories so long as the scenery is enjoyable. Not the case here.
The book wasn't horrible but it was not enjoyable. I only read it to the end because it was so short. It may be that this is a spot on rendition of old pulp crime fiction and that I simply do appreciate the artistry. Try it out yourself and maybe you will feel differently.
Can it Stand Alone
Yes. The books in this series are not connected. You can read it or skip it without fear of missing anything.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 - Lowest 5 - Highest
Sex - 3
The cover is rather misleading. The idea of sex and a early 1950's porn industry is in the background but rarely broached. There is a sex scene that is moderately graphic and footage from one of the films is discovered but it is only mildly graphic.
Language - 2.5
The language usage is average and consistent with the time period. There are no f-words. 12 uses of damn and 48 religious exclamations.
Violence - 3
There is scheming and conniving as well as few murders. Most of the murders are not graphic. There is violence toward a woman in the story that some readers may find unsettling. There is a set of murders that are moderately graphic.
Former boxer and current odd-jobber Ray Corson is enlisted by damsel in distress, Rebecca LaFontaine, to shake off some unwanted attention. A gentleman by the name of Halliday intends to disfigure Rebecca but not if Corson has anything to do with it.
This novel had to be dripping with solid gold if it was going to be able to top Hardcase's first publication, Grifter's Game. Unfortunately, while Fade To Blonde was an enjoyable read, it really didn't completely measure up.
That being said, Phillips does throw some awesome at the reader. There were parts that caused me to smirk, grin and out-right laugh but unfortunately, they were pretty sparse.
That would have settled me for a while, but he looked like he wanted to get up again somehow, and I kicked him in the belly, which made him more introspective.
..and while on cocaine, Ray has the following inner monolouge:
I thought it may be a good idea to bust her in the nose. Or maybe marry her. They were both brilliant ideas. I felt like I could pick up the house and throw it if I wanted. It was an unrestful way to feel.
I'm really digging this series (is digging a word people use anymore?) so far. If you're interested in noir or just crime fiction in general, these novels seem to be a great choice!
This book, although written in the modern era, is terrific reading because Phillips has captured the mood and spirit of the fifties-era pulp and he captures it better than anyone else in modern times. If you did not know better, you would think this was written fifty years ago. Maybe, Phillips is just an old soul or maybe he just succeeded at what he set out to do here.
Who is Max Phillips? He is the cofounder of Hard Case Crime along with Charles Ardai. He has also written under the pen name Forrest DeVoe Jr a series of sixties-era spy novels.
Ray Corson is an ex-boxer who has Hollywood connections and is now doing day labor. He also tries to write screenplays, but most of that ends up in the desk drawer. While working on a roof, he is approached by the ultimate femme fatale, Rebecca. "Well, maybe she wasn't all that blonde, but it'd be a crime to call hair like that light brown. It was more sort of lion-colored." Rebecca La Fontaine is driving a big blue convertible Studebaker. "She wore a pale blue dress with cream piping, a dark blue belt, and a silly schoolgirlish collar. She had nice straight shoulders. There was nothing wrong between them and her open-toed shoes, so I guess trouble must have been somewhere behind those blue-gray eyes." Rebecca must be a synonym for trouble because that is just what she brings to Ray. She is a dame in trouble with a hood named Holliday. Seems she came to town all innocent and made a blue movie with Holliday one night when she had too much and now Holliday won't lay off her. She says Holliday threatened to throw lye on her face and mess her up good. She wants Ray to do something about Holliday. He doesn't necessarily believe anything Rebecca says, but figures its worth poking into. After all, he's got nothing else going.
Ray is a bit wild and when the contractor he is working for says he doesn't have money to pay him, Ray puts a chain around the contractor's mouth and pulls until the contractor opens the safe and pays him. Ray's moments of craziness put him in trouble with local mob figures, like when he lays waste to two guys who came to tell him to cool off the investigation and they end up in the hospital or when he singlehandedly burns down the mob's whorehouses out in Calabasas because he did it without thinking.
Ray lived in a two-bit motel, right behind the Sun-Glo billboard. "The Sun-Glo Girl was seventy-five feet long and lay around all day on an elbow and a hip. Her job was to lie there, smiling and brushing back her hair." Descriptions like this I could read all day.
When Ray pays a visit on Rebecca, he finds her in a room without much space for anything but a bed, "which Rebecca was just then sharing with the biggest ole Cowboy I'd ever seen." She tells him yet another story and Ray goes to visit the gangsters in their bars and casinos and goes to work for them, sort of. There, he quickly raises trouble. The bartender hit a button and Ray sees two men in dinner jackets strolling toward him. "One of the dinner jackets was a pretty little fellow, a real pocket edition. But I've known," he explains, "some pocket editions and I wasn't giggling." When he sits with the gangster leader himself, "A slim brunette with a neck like a gazelle had appeared at [his] shoulder, wearing just about as much cloth of gold as you'd need to keep the chill off a canary. She set a fresh gimlet in front of me as if she were kissing her baby goodnight." Wow!
Of course, when Rebecca comes to see Ray, he finds her in the motel pool. "She opened her eyes again and her smile turned mocking. I'd been staring at her endowments, and she'd noticed it first." It's a great story filled with Hollywood floozies, blue movies, hoods, casinos, bars, flophouses, drug dens, and more. The story moves very quickly and is worth reading over and over again just for the great descriptions that Phillips gives, which absolutely evoke the fifties gangster pulp era.
He visits a drug party to get the goods on Halliday and uses a connection to get in. "Joan Healey was the most generous and least worried person [he] knew. She was about thirty-five and looked ten years younger and acted like a high school girl who'd just discovered malteds. [He] never figured out whether she thought she was ugly enough that she had to take what she could get or beautiful enough that she had a civic duty to spread it around, but she'd pretty much throw a leg over anybody who asked." That really gives the reader the full-on hardboiled, cynical attitude!
At the farmhouse turned whorehouse, the door was opened by "a thin woman of fifty or so in a party dress that showed too much of her and tried to push around what it didn't show. She smiled at me and said hello honey."
This was just one great book filled with great writing. Phillips has the talent or the attitude to convey in just a few sentences what might take others paragraphs to tell.
My biggest complaint with this book is that Phillips has failed to publish other hardboiled novels of this ilk.
Whoever Max Phillips is* (I used to be one of those reviewers who did a lot of research, but that just meant my reviews wound up being regurgitated facts and subconscious plagiarism so now I make like Jack Spader and wait for a review to be dictated to me. By ghosts) he does a damned fine job of writing a vintage piece of noir, set in the seamy margins of the film business sometime in the 1950s, as far as I can tell from internal references. He goes straight for Chandler/Hammett territory and for the most part delivers a convincing period piece, right down to the somewhat rambling, episodic middle-acts that both the aforementioned masters often delivered, moving their sleuths from one seedy venue to another explosive confrontation to get the pieces in place for the final blow. Still, there are times when it's clear from certain mannerisms in the dialogue (especially the ploy of making 70% of a sentence? A question) that the writer has lived through the 2000s.
That's a minor complaint, because Phillips certainly delivers on most other fronts with a variety of colourful character, all sorts of sordid set-pieces and bursts of frantic action. There's a dame, and she's bad news for everyone around, especially herself. There's a hood, but we don't know everything about him until it's almost too late. There's a patsy, but the dame and the hood don't have his full measure. Various gangsters, crooks, lowlifes, minor functionaries, film world nobodies & used-to-be-somebodies and so forth prowl around the edges of the narrative darting in for quick bits of snappy dialogue and plot advancement. If anything, this novel is a bit too crowded for its 220 or so pages.
A bigger complaint is that the protagonist just doesn't add up. A failed screen writer and sometime-boxer, sometime bit-actor, he lived through some frightening moments in the second world war, but he's also well-read in a hard-bitten sort of way (he likes Chekhov and Stephen Crane, Hemingway tires him out). None of this really explains why he's such a fucking psycho. When anyone else would have been happy to get in a couple of solid punches and wind their opponent long enough to make a clean getaway, Corson will go for the jugular, every single time. Excessive violence is his only action mode and even in the tough circles he moves around in, he is known to be a bit of a wild card. Only, we're never given sufficient reasons why this is so.
So there you have it. Lots of good one-liners, a suitably sordid plot and a pretty good stab at old-fashioned noir entertainment through degradation even if there is an attempt to let a little sunshine through at the every end. Not something that I'll include in my list of all-time favourites, but by no means a bad way to spend your time and money.
*So I did my research afterwards, and he's one of the people running Hard Case crime. A bit cheeky to make one of his own books the second in the series, but at least it's obvious that this is an operation run by people who know a thing or two about their chosen area of operation. Also he gets huge points from me for this interview answer:
GM: Ray Corson, Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe and Jeff Markham are in a bar and get into a drunken brawl. Who’s going to win? MP: Jules Maigret glares at them over his beer and they all slink out in shame.
Fade to Blonde is one of the longer pulp/noir novels I've read in the Hard Case Crime line-up strictly because of its somewhat aimless plot. Ray Corson is a likable, compelling ex-boxer, screen writer, handyman for hire with an engaging manner about him. The problem is that he's stuck in a story where the other characters don't measure up. Rebecca LaFontaine as the femme fatale is too clearly a liar and trouble from the start. She hires him to get rid of an obsessed suitor named Lance Halliday. But her story has more runs in it than a cheap pair of stockings. Corson knows it, she knows it and the reader knows it. The villains Lance Halliday and Lenny Scarpa have their moments to swap quips and threats. There is a good showdown at a brothel late in the novel. How a brothel figures into the plot is one of those "where is this all going?" issues that could be held against the novel. But, all in all, an entertaining exercise in bad behavior.
Ray Corson is a former boxer, a wannabe writer (Stephen Crane, Hemmingway, etc.), and current roofer. In other words, he’s a guy in his mid-thirties starting to show a gut, who has knocked around the country a bit too long. Enter a beautiful woman with a big Studebaker convertible, and a job for someone who can still throw a devastating overhand right. Things start to happen, as he inserts himself into Rebecca LaFontaine’s world of drugs, thugs, porn, and lies. But Corson is no fool, and he can play hide-the-ball as well, or better, than those who see him as a useful and disposable tool. Max Phillips Fade to Blonde represents, to date, the best example of classic noir that I’ve read so far in the Hard Case series. It has it all, setting (1950s Hollywood), dialogue, and atmosphere. An alert reader will pick on little glimmers of Cain, Thompson, and earlier Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, Big Nowhere), but nothing that takes away from Phillip’s impressive effort. There are a few nits, such as the writer wannabe bit (but hey, we all dream) and a few thin moments plot-wise, but this one gets 5 stars due to its outstanding hard-boiled dialogue, which powers the novel along at a quick pace. I checked this one out at the library, but I wouldn’t mind owning it for a re-read. It’s that good.
* "Max Phillips" has to be a pen name. Anyone know who this guy is?
Ray is my kind of protagonist. He's observant even when he seems not to be and he's more intelligent than he lets on but there's a sensitive side too. He's a would-be writer or screen writer if he could get a break. His take on other writers was pretty good. I recall one on Tolstoy: the man never crossed out a sentence in his whole life. This novel had some nice twists and interesting characters (Gangster Scarpa could have had another scene for me). And the femme fatale Rebecca, man that's a piece of work. I still remember this one exchange between her and Ray.
Rebecca climbs on top of him. Ray: I know what your doing. Rebecca: And you thinking your 'knowing' makes any difference.
Heh. And there's many more where that came from. That's classic pulp crime fiction.
I really wasn't sure about Fade to Blonde as I read the book. The story follows a complex web surrounding (surprise, surprise!) a drop dead gorgeous blonde. She is wrapped up in a tangle involving gangsters, drugs, stag movies, and more.
To be frank, I probably wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been on an airplane with nothing other to read. The story had a few too many twists in it and also jumped around. For large chunks of the story I found myself wondering why the protagonist was doing this or going there. Connections only became clear after the fact.
I was set to give the book two stars until the end. The end was perfect. So many of these Hard case books have seriously depressing endings it was nice to find one that resolved itself in a good way.
This is only the secomd book published by the Hard Case Crime imprint -- and it was an original for them which came out in 2004. I bought it back then but only got around to reading it now. I couldn't put it down. Great stuff in the pulp tradition. Pure, enjoyable "hard-boiled" fiction.
Fade to Blonde is razor sharp noir, a crisply-written homage to the hardboiled fiction of the '40s and '50s that reads like a lost noir film you really want to see. The protagonist, veteran and former boxer Ray Corson, is a streetwise tough guy in need of work. He's hired by Rebecca, an attractive, manipulative blonde in need of help and the plot takes off from there. Corson's a great character: he's big and fearless but he's also smart and observant. However, he's not so smart that he doesn't step right into some difficult situations and he has an impulsive streak that proves problematic for him more than once.
As always in a novel like this, all is not what it initially seems. Max Phillips keeps the twists and turns coming and I found his writing style an absolute pleasure to read. Highly recommended!
Hard Case Crime shows it can deliver as a book publisher. With novels such as Money Shot, I've become a big fan of the company It's always good to know there are Still a few publishers out there who can deliver the goods. Fade to Blond is written from the perspective of Ray Corson, a WWII vet and prize fighter. It's the 1950'S in Los Angeles and he's trying to make a living in the building trades. One day a mysterious blond woman comes up to him on a job site wanting to hire Corson to keep a former boyfriend off her back. Needing the cash and smitten with the woman, he takes the job. But soon he discovers there's more to the job than she let on. Her ex is a small time hoodlum named Halliday who produces adult films and is in fealty to Lenny Scarpa, a major player in the drug trade. Scarpa, in turn, is beholden to Fausto Burri, the mob boss of Santa Monica. Soon Corson discovers all kinds of inconsistencies in the blonde’s (who goes by the name Rebecca Lafontaine) story. But he’s fallen in love with her and becomes ensnarled in a complex of schemes. Max Phillips has a natural, but not too easy to follow, writing style. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell who's talking if the scene involves multiple characters. But his feel for natural speaking can also work to his advantage, especially if a given character does not speak standard English. And he can turn a sentence. Such as this description of a young woman who lives too fast:
"I was always glad to see Joanie, because it meant no one had killed her yet."
And check out how he manages to capture the spirit of the age in one sentence:
"I saw a couple more people about as well-known as Neale and Tremaine, and some players who were just half familiar faces, but you couldn't think what they'd done, and some gaudy specimens who must have been choreographers or designers, and some set dressers and grips and a couple guys who nigh I've been artists, the new kind, that try to look like dockworkers."
The ending of the book is quite stunning, although not too surprising. It out-ranks the famous "It was easy” conclusion from another novel. A good hard boiled book from a company creating crime fiction with an edge
The main premise of this is that if a woman is pretty enough, she can act like a sociopath and still have men falling all over her and risking their lives for her. Rebecca was awful. I mean, I know she was supposed to be, but I just got sick of the main character being wrapped around her little finger even thought she is obviously bad news and is using him. This frustrated me. I found the main character hard to relate to for that reason. But the book was fast paced and kept me turning pages, even as the annoyance grew. It kept me reading.
Three (and a half) stars with a bit of reservation...
I've got a shelf full of these Hard Case Crime books, and as I go through more and more, the characters and the situations tend to blend far more than I'd like. Big and Quiet But Wisecracking Guy gets hired by a Femme Fatale for a Task. BQWG falls for FF, Task clearly not what he first thought, but clouded by love/lust, he still goes through with it, until the Twist.
I guess I'm not really spoiling much by saying this book follows that formula pretty much to a T; Ray, our hero, is a failed screen writer and boxer who is stuck as a day laborer when a blonde pops up and within three minutes of flashing a little skin in his direction gets his help to scare off a would-be pornographer and mobster.
Some of my problems probably come down to expectations. It's a modern (2004) detective novel that seems to follow that plot construction, so I kind of thought at some point the book would offer more of a twist or commentary on the standard formula, but it ended up playing the whole thing pretty straight. We already know three pages in that Rebecca is full of secrets and probably up to no good, so it will take a big twist to really get us. And, I admit, the last twenty or thirty pages did have enough good turns to make me consider bumping this up to four stars.
But too much of the book had a been-there, done-that feel, and half of the book is sitting around and waiting without much in the way of actual progression. The final twists come about not because they feel earned but because we are two hundred pages in so let's wrap this up. Several characters and side-plots vanish or end half-heartedly. A solid, if not perfect addition to the HCC family, but compared to some of the other new books like "Little Girl Lost", it just won't stack up.
In 2004, the Hard Case Crime imprint was begun, cofounded by authors Charles Ardai and Max Phillips. While the publishers reprinted many of the hard boiled crime novels of the 30’a 40’s and 50’s, they also publish newly minted stories. Max Phillips wrote this second novel and one can easily imagine him pecking away on an old typewriter, trying for every cliché in the proverbial book as he worked to establish the imprint and everything it stands for.
A beautiful femme fatal hires out-of-work Hollywood screen writer Ray Corson (who also happens to be built like a brick wall and is an ex-boxer) to be the muscle in her attempt to extricate herself from a series of unfortunate events. We encounter gunfights, car chases, fist fights, drug parties for wannabee actors, and the Raymond Chandler-like metaphors drip throughout like maple syrup. There are also plenty of twists and lies within lies but somehow, Ray always sees through the play and navigates his way to the end. It’s all great fun and served the imprint well, winning the Shamus Award for best PI paperback original in 2005.
A nice quick read between longer works. My overall rating is a 3.5, rounded up to 4 because of the deep and everlasting life lesson to be learned here: never trust a beautiful woman who wants to hire you.
When selecting any of the Hard Case Crime series, you pretty much know what to expect. And if you don't, then the blurb, and the fantastic artwork provide plenty of clues. 'Fade to Blonde' is no exception: a riveting, page turner which, like its main protagonist Ray Corson, pulls no punches. The prose is both skillful and succinct, with witty dialog to match. There's plenty of memorable characters and enough twists to hold your interest. As Corson says: "I only buy books by people I wish I wrote like" and I suspect many crime, noir, hardboiled writers would have been more than satisfied to have written this.
One of Hard Case Crime's original works, this is a rather nifty homage to the hardboiled works of the Forties and Fifties. Set in Hollywood, Ray Corson wants to be a screenwriter but like many he has to find other work to pay the bills. Enter Rebecca LaFontaine who is looking for a hired hand. Only 220 pages, but plenty of plot, a self aware hero, and just enough hardboiled dialogue made this a quick enjoyable read.
This Shamus Award winner is the second novel in the Hard Case Crime portfolio. While written in 2004, the novel captures the tone and feeling of crime novels written in the 1940's, 1950's and 60's. The characters are tough with snappy dialogue. You can see the influences of Chandler, McDonald, and even Hammett. As I read the novel I could visualize it as a Bogart and Bacall noir movie. It is a great homage to the genre.
This 2004 novel is packaged as if it were a reprint of a noir/crime novel from the 50s. A reasonably decent read it is, but that it isn't. The protagonist is more of a noble superhero type than an ignoble anti-hero, and the heroine comes off more as a confused little girl in a woman's body than a seductive temptress.
“Galahad, huh?” Above average fan fiction. I didn’t mind this being fairly weak tea but I really did miss the sense that I was just the width of the page away from some whisky-drenched logophile working out his issues (or paying a pressing bill) on the page. So points off for Max Phillips not actually writing in the 1950s but lots of plus points for him having the brass balls to hand his own manuscript in while simultaneously publishing Westlake, Block et al.
Mild-mannered handyman and occasional roofer Ray Corson is approached by sometime starlet Rebecca LaFontaine and asked to pop acid-flinging pornographer Lance Halliday. Various visits to offices ensue. Corson, like James Ellroy’s Buzz Meeks, is handy with his fists and can dip in and out of the twilight world of Hollywood so he can mix it with the mob types Phillips depicts as being involved in nothing we don’t know about already. Corson dislikes drink (“I never wanted to see another goddamned stinking gimlet as long as I lived”), prefers to eat, can take a punch, knows how to handle a lady and…is a writer. I didn’t think we ever quite slipped into full-on Gary Sue territory but at times the novel got close. Phillips fills the pages with lifestyle porn involving Corson – we get detailed descriptions of his meals, his clothes, his grooming regime – but it never amounts to much beyond informing his fastidiousness. I also noted Corson allows gangster Scarpa to tailor him in some new threads, Rebecca gets to dress in Corson’s clothes, and secret selves factor into the finale but this all struck me as fortuitous rather than planned. Corson is shown to be partial to reading and writing but that too is never explored or fed into the plot, it’s just there; in fact he’s happy to walk away from his books and typewriter at the end of the novel. Rebecca’s love of swimming eventually provides only a meh clue and the torrent of bollocks she spouts throughout the novel – and the cold-blooded murder she leaves behind her – finds no endgame payback. Our hero eventually lets her off the hook because he has a thing about her and while that can certainly happen in hard-boiled fiction here he pays no karmic debt for doing so. The hard-boiled Gods are rarely so inattentive.
Phillips, alas, is no stylist and he injects generic swagger only into Corson’s many asides (“Just when I thought he was done standing up, he’d stand up some more”; “I’d put roofs on smaller things than Lorin Shade”; “His suit was what my suit wanted to be when it grew up”) which, bewilderingly, he then has pocket rocket Lisa Rae take the piss out of (“‘Hard-boiled,’ she said warningly”) which is amusingly meta or an immersion-killer depending on your taste. It put me in mind of the Dixon Hill episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Publishing economics long ago forcibly stripped literary ventriloquism of the stigma of yesteryear but over and over again modern writers “honour” the past by singing a shrill cover version (c.f. Anthony Horowitz trying to channel Ian Fleming) leaving the reader, as always, feeling their time would have been better spent enjoying the real thing. “Fade To Blonde” is by no means a complete disaster – it’s a perfectly amenable period soap with flashes of violence and some ooh-la-la – and it’s a pity Phillips has so far refrained from revisiting his protagonist but you can’t help exiting with the distant sense that this novel was almost certainly written in Microsoft Word and not on the sort of typewriter the hero so casually abandons. Fade to bland.
This book hit all the tropes of the genre right on the nose. It had the beautiful (but not too beautiful) damsel in distress; the down-on-his-luck, everyman tough guy that’s prone to violence and also willing to take almost any oddjob that comes his way; a good slew of gangsters representing a healthy cross-section of age, motivation, and intimidation; and a supporting cast of witty, fast-talking, affable characters to push along the main plot. The locales were also spot on: from a rent-by-the-day seedy motel, to a gaudy movie producer mansion, to shady offices, and rambling dope parties -- there was a lot to enjoy!
Some of the plot diversions felt a bit unnecessary but were nevertheless entertaining. The shoot-up at the brothel comes to mind as one such unnecessary diversion. The whole affair seemed ancillary to the main plot and could have probably been left out (I’m guessing it was left in to hit some publisher page quota). Nevertheless, the scene read like the Django Unchained Candyland shootout and was therefore extremely enjoyable.
My biggest qualm with the book was its inability to provide its protagonist, Ray Corson, with proper motivation for carrying on with the plot. From the beginning of the story, he seems reluctant to be at the service of the titular blonde, Rebecca. She doesn’t even give him enough money to warrant his interest in her situation. Whatmore, he continues to pick and prod at her story, because it seems off to him; he does not trust her. Yet he still goes along with the mission. Initially, it seems that he’s doing so in pursuit of a potential romantic relationship, but even that motivation waffles and ultimately collapses.
So our main character is not motivated by money, romance, or even a sense of wanting to do the right thing. If I were to guess, I would say that the author would claim “curiosity”. But the protagonist already has the whole plot figured out by the time he embarks on his final mission. He needlessly ends up putting himself at risk when he could have just gotten up and walked away.
While this book delivers on most of the desired elements for this style of book: the characters, the settings, the violence, the smut. It fails to deliver on a purpose to push its plot along. It feels like Ray Corson could step out of the plot at any point and that’s how I ended up feeling throughout my reading of the book.
Originally published in 2004, Fade to Blonde is a Hard Case Crime original by Max Phillips, and it sings. The book is a ride, with a femme fatale for the ages, a hard-necked protagonist who could stand side by side with other genre greats, and enough tough guy dialogue to fill a dictionary.
Phillips puts everything together in beautiful fashion. There's a little bit of everything in here, and he does a great job of pulling out a pretty grand ending to a winding plot through seedy period sets. Ray Corson, the protagonist, has some of the best dialogue I've yet read in a potboiler like this, and so much of the story's exposition is shown instead of delivered in the typical narrative fashion; as a piece of art, it works, and the novel could serve as a textbook for execution in craft.
So, the prose is excellent, the characters are interesting, the plot is exciting, and there's more grit and grime in this book than most other authors could fit in their whole library. Everything about the book works, and it does so because Phillips seems to take the book seriously.
Through the books I've read in 2018, Hard Case Crime became my favorite publisher; it's books like this one that serve as the reason why.
Another Hard Case Crime book for Noir November. I have the kindle edition of this book. I don't know anything about the author and I can't tell if this book was written to have taken place in the 50's or actually was written in the 50's (though it does look like it was published in 2004). Overall, this was a fun noir read with a lot of twists and turns. Maybe too many. At times I felt like it veered right off the road. The book is about Roy Carson who meets a fatal blonde that hires him to threaten (maybe kill) a man that is threatening her. Why is he threatening her? Well Roy finds out it could be many different things as she keep changing her story. The book is mostly told through dialog. While interesting there gets to be a bit too much of it. Some nice steamy passages, but all in all it's a pretty tame read. With action and a yet another twist in the end, Fade to Blonde delivers on a decent, pulpy noir read.
I'll begin by writing that I love Hard Case Crime as a publisher. They just have terrific design and editorial sensibilities. That written, this is not their best book. It doesn't really work that that the hero is smarter than everyone else, works harder than everyone else, and has a heart of gold is also broke and an idiot. Other writers make this work by having the hero be a hard drinker or addicted to gambling or always going for the 2 birds in the bush or he can't resist a woman he's laid. In this case, the hero has no weakness, making his stupidity inexplicable.