American imprint Hard Case Crime are a favorite 'round Pornokitsch headquarters. A relatively young series (founded 2004), Hard Case is devoted to publishing hard-to-find classic pulps and new novels written in the spirit of the golden age of hard-boiled noir, with cover art inspired by such pulp luminaries as Robert McGinnis (another Pornokitsch favorite; you probably know him from this).
Frankly, there isn't much not to like about Hard Case Crime.
Jack Clark's Nobody's Angel is another excellent addition to the Hard Case catalogue. It features an engaging protagonist, a grim couple of mysteries, a grimy noir setting, and an ambiguous, depressing ending, topped off with a dash of good humor and the superb, crisp writing style that characterizes the best hard-boiled stories.
Our hero is Eddie Miles, a night-driving cabbie in early-90s Chicago. He and his fellow hacks are on edge thanks to a murderer targeting late-night cabbies. The double-barreled plot kicks off when Eddie a) finds a young prostitute dying of stab wounds in an alley, and b) one of his good friends and fellow cab-drivers is found dead in Chicago's most notorious public housing development - a location Eddie knows he'd never go.
In addition to an engaging plot, Clark warms his cold Chicago nights with superb characterization; Eddie isn't a very happy guy, but he's smart and he's funny, and he can handle himself. He's also self-aware enough to analyze - and agonize about - the many racial issues that are implied by his situation. He's an open-minded man, and hates himself just a little for the realities that being a late-night cab driver in Chicago impose. There are certain people he won't pick up, for fear that they'll rob him, or worse. There are certain places he won't drive, because they're where those people would hail (or jack) him. The problem is, those people are largely black, and those places are largely black neighborhoods. There are plenty of good, honest people in those neighborhoods who need taxis, and it eats at Eddie that he and his fellow cabbies underserve them. But it's the terrible calculus of his existence.
The novel, through Eddie's eyes, takes the reader tooling through the best and the worst parts of Chicago, with the best and the worst kinds of people. Working girls, drunken businessmen, over-entitled students and convenience-store clerks: Clark brings them all to life with pathos and humor. It's an absolute pleasure to get a feeling for hack-culture through the novel, and to get to know some of the cabbies along with Eddie. It's also a great pleasure to read such a gorgeous and fully-realized rendering of Chicago. Clark has a real achievement on his hands with his Chicago; he capably juxtaposes the city's myriad contradictions in a compelling and believable way.
If I have any complaint to make about Nobody's Angel, it would be only that the sub-plot about a serial killer of prostitutes peters out without any real resolution. This being a noir novel, however, the personal aspect of this plot (the young prostitute Eddie finds) does deliver some resolution, although, according to hoary noir tradition, it's not an especially uplifting one.
Clark self-published Nobody's Angel in 1996, and Hard Case has made it available it for the mass market only this year. I'm awfully glad they did; it's a good book and deserves a wide audience. I lived in Chicago for years, and Clark really captures the spirit of a great, dreadful, marvelous, complex city in his lovely novel.
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