Hard Case Crime gives us a fun hard boiled entry for the holidays with Daniel Boyd’s Easy Death. Set in 1951, the book is written in the style from that era. It feels like you picked it off the spinner rack at a drug store instead the shelf of a modern bookstore. However, he weaves in a modern sensibility to keep today’s reader engaged.
The set-up is simple. Two World War Two vets, Eddie and Walter, are ordered by the local crime boss to rob an armored car the week before Christmas in the middle of a blizzard. They get the money, but the crime and getaway are far from perfectly executed. With cops, criminals, and even a park ranger after Eddie,Walter, and the loot, the ensuing results are endlessly entertaining.
Boyd has definitely read his share of Gold Medal releases, famed in the fifties for their pulp paperbacks. There’s plenty of quality tough guy dialogue that never becomes anachronistic. It is tightly written, jumping back and forth with time and character (reminiscent of Lionel White’s Clean Break, later adapted into Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing) yet easy to follow. The plot naturally careens at times, with a pace that keeps it in check, especially when the threads rush into one another.
That said, Boyd refuses to make this a simple exercises in copying old influences. Though these guys talk tough and some actually are, he makes them utterly human. As the story progresses so does the humor as each character finds themselves in over their head. Instead of yielding to existential oblivion, each carries a reckless hope that, in the end, gets a few of them through. In short, Easy Death is It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with a lot more gunfire. There’s even a subtle self awareness, mainly with the use of Christmas songs.
Daniel Boyd and Easy Death are a perfect fit in Hard Case Crime. It is Robert Mitchum in black and white filtered through post-modern Tarantino (someone even loses an ear) without being overly self aware. This is a voice I look forward to hearing more from.
Copies of Easy Death are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.