Sunday, 21 April 2019
RALPH DENNIS - THE CHARLESTON KNIFE IS BACK IN TOWN (1974)
The second novel in the unforgettable, long lost series by Ralph Dennis is finally back in print… after being coveted for years by collectors of the very best in hardboiled fiction.
Jim Hardman was a mediocre Atlanta cop until he was wrongly accused of corruption and thrown off the force. Now he works as an unlicensed PI, trouble-shooter and bodyguard…often partnered with his drinking buddy Hump Evans, a black, ex-NFL player who supports his playboy lifestyle by working as hired muscle.
Five kids rip off a gambling party attended by Hump Evans and some of Atlanta’s criminal and political elite. Hardman is hired to recover the loot and find the kids before they are caught and butchered by a hitman from Charleston with a very sharp knife.
This new edition includes an introduction by Joe R. Lansdale, the New York Times bestselling author of the Hap & Leonard crime novels.
Another trip to mid-70s Atlanta and more time spent in the company of ex-cop, Jim Hardman and hard-ass buddy, Hump Evans.
Hardman and Evans go up against a legendary hitman, the Charleston knife in a race to find the five kids who ripped off an after fight party, depriving Atalanta's criminal elite of cash, jewels and furs, as well as administering a few lump's to Hump's head. A contract has been put out on the kids, while a concerned grandmother has hired Hardman to save her grandson's skin. He's off the rails and involved.
Lots for me to enjoy here. I like the pre-tech era of payphones and street maps, instead of mobiles, computers and apps. (I'm old enough to remember the days when you made sure you left the house with change in your pocket.)
I like the dynamics of the relationship between Hardman and sidekick Evans, one white one black but equals. I enjoyed the plot and the chase to the end, with the earlier crossing of paths between Hardman and the Knife before the inevitable collision at the climax. I also liked the reappearance of several characters from the first book in the series, Atlanta Deathwatch. Art, Hardman's friend - a reliable, pliable policeman is an asset to Hardman and we also gain information from The Man, the black gangster and architect of Hardman's last case.
Hardman is an intriguing character. Drummed off the police force, he's not averse to breaking the law to earn his living, but he retains a level of integrity and a moral compass which mostly dictates his behaviour. He was a pretty poor cop, by his own admission, but he's a decent investigator and knows how to gets answers. He's in an on/off relationship with Marcy and for the most part respects that - when it's on, by refusing to take advantage of a desperate girl who thinks her body is the only way she can compensate Hardman. On another occasion, his quest for information in a high-class knocking shop and with a cover story to maintain, his compass gets left at the door along with his trousers. Hump, by contrast is a confirmed player and an entertaining rogue to boot.
Plenty of pace, plenty of action, plenty of death and violence, but a lot more besides. This is a series I intend to see through to the end - twelve in all. The third in the series - The Golden Girl and All is the next one up.
Thoughts on Atlanta Deathwatch here.
4.5 from 5
Read - April, 2019
Published - 1974, republished 2018 by Brash Books
Page count - 171
Source - purchased copy
Format - kindle