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Alex Grant
Hard Case by Dan Simmons
Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich


US writer Dan Simmons, a versatile author known for his Endymion sci-fi series as well as a clutch of vampire and other fantasy novels, has set himself a demanding task – to create a "good/bad guy" hoodlum non-pareil equivalent to "Richard Stark’s" (Donald E. Westlake’s) charismatic, ultra cool "Parker".

The late Lee Marvin personified Parker (named "Walker") in John Boorman’s 1967 movie Point Blank adapted from Stark’s first Parker book The Hunter. Robert Duvall did likewise in John Flynn’s The Outfit (1973). In 1968 black actor and athlete Jim Brown essayed the role In The Split as did, in 1983, Peter Coyote (Slayground). Neither could hold a candle to Lee Marvin’s portrayal.
There are twenty-four "Parker" novels penned by the fictitious "Richard Stark". The most recent is Firebreak (in hardcover). If Parker were real, he’d now be in his early seventies and in Firebreak he’s even more lethal than his previous thirty-five year old incarnation.

Dan Simmons’ "Joe Kurtz" is an embittered former private-eye and ex-con. He served almost twelve years for torturing and defenestrating the killer of the mother of Joe’s daughter Rachel, almost fourteen. For most of her life, Joe has been a jailbird.
Joe obliges the Farino Mob to engage his services as an investigator, trying to locate Mob accountant Buell Richardson, and he leaves behind a blood-boltered trail of derring-do and mayhem. Yet, being in the "Parker" mold, Kurtz is admirable for an (amoral) code to which he hews stolidly.

The testosterone drenched Alpha-Male exemplified in the "Travis McGee" novels by the late, great John D. McDonald (one of whose many superlative novels was filmed as Cape Fear in 1962) is perceived today as a menace to society and is an endangered species, despite his undisputed superiority to most mere mortals. As well as being thoroughly intimidating, the Alpha-Male is unerringly and without fail one step ahead of everyone else.
Today’s p.c. "shrinking violents" resent this edge that the classic dominant male figure boasts.
An author like Dan Simmons is content to rejoice in the edge held by thinking-man lone wolves and outlaws bent upon retribution.

Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich
By way of direct, irrefutable contrast, Janet Evanovich’s "Stephanie Plum", bond-enforcement agent in her eighth outing, Hard Eight is all repartee, persiflage, wisecracks and self-deprecation. Evanovich’s novels are wildly inventive and devoted to an incessant stream of blue-collar pseudo-feminist rants and ravings, yet invariably become tedious and wearisome to the point of outstaying their welcome.

An accident-prone disaster waiting to happen and a romantic-run-amok, Stephanie always triumphs over adversity (implausibly so) thanks to her guardian angels: macho cop Joe Morelli and supermacho Latino mystery-man Ranger (aka The Wizard). Ms. Plum is inevitably one step behind here pair of stalwart Alpha-Males. Cleverly disguised Harlequin bodice-rippers, Evanovich’s books are simply too much of a fairly good thing. That good thing being her depiction of the community of eccentrics in Trenton, New Jersey.

© Alex Grant September 2002

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