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For the twentieth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, the publisher's co-founder and editor, Charles ArdaI released a collection of his short work. Titled Death Comes Too Late, the stories span from Ancient China to a superhero populated city. All have a a tip of the hat to the classic writing styles of the crime writers from the last century and demonstrate how a writer properly applies their influences.

It kicks off with "Homefront", a tale that is quintessential Charles Ardai. Like many of his stories it is set in another time and utilizes a certain career or detail that existed in that period. Here it is stateside World War Two with a agent for The Office Of Price Administration, busting garages who break the gas rationing law. The story has several bleak twists of fate and an attitude that comes from its world weary working class characters, reminiscent of James M. Cain. It provides an example how Ardai's story often feels like it was written in the time it takes place.

In fact several of the stories could have been easily tucked into the pages of the famed crime fiction magazine of the fifties and sixties, Manhunt, with their style, suspense, and hard twists. "Shadow Lines" is a tough guy in Mexico tale in the grain of tales like Dorothy B. Hughes' Ride The Pink Horse with seedy hotels and dank bars where a gun or knife could be pulled at any moment. He conjures up a classic PI yarn with "Nobody Wins" with a gumshoe looking for a hood's blue-blood fiance. He has a lot of fun with his tarnished knight's dialogue and inner monologue. Alfred Hitchcock Magazine originally published "The Case" and the director would had loved Ardai's well crafted suspense and his hook with a bomb that doesn't detonate.

The author often visits Time Square in his work. His eighties journalist searches for Elvis to save his life in the suspense satire "Don't be Cruel" examining conspiracies and the people who follow them. In "Mother Of Pearl", he takes forties era street hustlers of different stripes and applies his style and mood to create one of his most poignant tales.

The collection contains twenty stories of varying subgenres, mostly of the hard boiled variety. A Cornell Woolrich tribute, "Sleep! Sleep! Burning Bright" captures Woolrich's fever dream poetry. He creates some finely drawn characters who patron "Charlie's Bar", a wrong place that a salesman finds himself at the wrong time. The book wraps things up with the unique "An Investigation Of Things" where the sleuth and his assistant in ancient China looking into a murder where the victim died of a method they never encountered- a bullet.

While many of the stories honor and borrow from the crime writers Ardai reveres, he has his own voice. His humanist attitude and understanding of storytelling craft get filtered through his hard boiled heroes. Death Comes Too Late is the crime fiction equivalent of a night sampling several different drinks from a master mixologist at a top end bar in the city and all of them put you on your ass.


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