Books, Reviews

Forgotten Books: The Charlston Knife’s Back In Town

08.15.08 | 2 Comments

Unlicensed private eye Jim Hardman and his buddy and sometimes partner Hump Evans are at a boxing match when Hump happens across a discarded invitation to a private party. He decides to crash it, but Hardman takes a pass. Turns out that was a good idea – the party was a set-up, for a robbery. Most of those invited were the kind who’d carry large sums of money, and who couldn’t tell the cops just how much they’d been take for.

The thieves were young and inexperienced, and didn’t think their clever plan through. The kind of people they robbed were not the kind of people who could go running to the cops, but they were the kind of people who had other options. And they brought in the Charleston Knife.

Hardman is hired by the mother of one of these baby-faced criminals to save him from the Knife. The Knife doesn’t just kill for money, it’s also his hobby, and Hardman is able to use this to his advantage, as he tracks his quarry and sets up a final confrontation.

The Hardman books by Ralph Dennis make up one of the most unappreciated crime series of the 70s. The writing is direct and unpretentious, the situations believable, and Dennis makes good use of Atlanta color, including Hardman’s hangout, the Stein Club, which was still in operation at least twenty years after this book came out.

The friendship between Hardman and Hump has been compared to that between Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Hawk, but to me it seems more like the relationship between Joe Lansdale’s Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. In both Dennis’ and Lansdale’s books the protagonists are solidly blue-collar, usually struggling to make their way through life, and both authors make use feel that the sidekick has a life outside of the series.

The Charleston Knife is Back in Town is a great read, and if you find a copy, be sure to pick it up.


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