Monday, November 13, 2006

Fast One

I was discussing Paul Cain's Fast One with John Fraser recently. John runs a fine website dedicated to the work of Ernest Kelly, a.k.a. Darcy Glinto, a name that will be well known to anyone who has read my book The Trials of Hank Janson.

Anyway, I found some notes on the book I made a few years ago and thought I'd stick them in here. I mentioned to John that Fast One was the greatest movie Bruce Willis never made and I see that I've hinted at the same thing below.
Fast One

Deliriously plotted and paced hardboiled novel of which Raymond Chandler claimed to be "some kind of high point in the ultra hard-boiled manner." The mysterious Cain created in Gerry Kells the predecessor of Hollywood's indestructible powerhouse heroes who could be beaten, shot and stabbed and still move with relentless force along the destructive path they have chosen. Die Hard would have made a great alternate title.

Ex-East Coast hitman Kells finds himself embroiled in a plot of escalating complexity and violence when he initially tries to recover a gambling debt owed by book-maker Jack Rose, who wants to use Kells’ strong-arm reputation to put off any violent rivalry when he reopens a gambling ship. Kells refuses the invitation: "I came out here a few months ago with two grand and I've given it a pretty good ride. I've got a nice joint at the Ambassador, with a built-in bar; I've got a swell bunch of telephone numbers and several thousand friends in the bank. It's a lot more fun guessing the name of a pony that guessing what the name of the next stranger I'm supposed to have shot will be. I'm having a lot of fun. I don't want any part of anything."

Since he's not the solution, Kells becomes part of the problem to Rose and Kells is framed for a murder. From there on, Cain does not let the pace slacken for a second: triple-cross follows double-cross; the gambling boat goes up in flames; rival gambling-boat owner Fay introduces him to femme-fatale dipsomaniac Granquist; racketeer Lee Fenner wants the evidence Granquist has on politician Bellman; gunmen want to ventilate him; East Coast big shot Crotti wants to muscle in on the territory... Cain maintains a controlled hold on the plot as it twists and turns, alliances are made and broken, and Kells' motivations switch back and forth. When the storyline hints at sagging, shotguns blast from a black Cadillac swinging by, or a gunman arrives with a glittering automatic and Kells is coshed into vicious, swirling darkness. Kells accumulates money (collected debts, payoffs from the Bellman photographs, ransom on a confession) and wounds (a shotgun blast in the leg, reopened later, lumps from being slugged into unconsciousness, slaps to the face, a clawing from the distraught wife of a dead friend, a hand slashed by broken glass, an ice pick in the back, a gunshot that cripples his arm that he dismisses as a "crease"); his story could never end happily.
Somewhere or other I have a copy of the book but, as I couldn't find it when I was discussing it with John, I picked up another copy when I saw it on Saturday. And not just for the story: the cover of this No Exit Press edition (2004) is an uncredited reprint of an old Heade cover. The original appeared on what has to be one of the high spots of hardboiled titles, Hot Dames on Cold Slabs by Michael Storme (Archer Press, 1950). As you can see from the scan, my copy has been read a few times over the years.

Anyway, back to Cain. A fine essay by Benoit Tadie can be found on John's website entitled 'Paul Cain, Modernism, Morality: What Orwell Missed'. Well worth reading.

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