"Just leave me alone. There are some things that even a woman can't solve!"
Hard Case Crime brings Ed McBain's first crime novel, SO NUDE, SO DEAD back into print for the first time in over 50 years. So how does it hold up....?
First off, I'm not much of a crime novel reader. I dabble occasionally, but noir isn't a consuming passion of mine. I gave this a chance because I've been meaning to try McBain for decades now, so I thought I'd take a chance. Considering how old this book is, and that it was McBain's first crime novel, I enjoyed it more than I expected to.
As a 2015 reader who wasn't even born when this book was first published in 1952, McBain's breathless prose and frantic take on addiction can seem extremely dated. The story finds disgraced piano prodigy Ray Stone hitting rock-bottom: He's thrown everything away thanks to his voracious heroin addiction, and now he's on the run from the cops, framed for a murder he didn't commit. Ray woke up next to a dead dame, and is being sought by the law and the mob, who want the victim's missing 16 ounces of heroin.
I had a good time picturing this as a 1950's crime-noir film....I liked how everyone, even heroin-addicted thugs and violent gangsters, wore three-piece suits and hats back in the day, and the clipped, staccato dialogue was priceless. How can you not love dialogue like this...?
"There's a monkey on my back, a fifteen-pound monkey and his name is horse."
A confused flicker crossed her eyes. "I don't under-"
"Horse is his nickname. His real name is Heroin."
There's a lot of gems like that scattered throughout the book, and McBain keeps the pace moving along briskly, as Ray hunts through the city putting together the clues that he hopes will lead him to the real murderer, fighting his crippling need for heroin the entire time. The mystery, such as it is, was extremely easy to solve, but that could just be because I've seen a ton of films that have been made since this book was written, many of which had similar big reveals at the end. Back in 1952, it might not have been so obvious.
As a time capsule, this is a very interesting book. Fans of McBain will no doubt be thrilled to finally be able to read this book. Also included is a novelette by McBain that features his Matt Cordell character, from "The Gutter and The Grave", and it's a fast-paced little tale of murder and drug addiction that made me want to read more Cordell, ASAP.
Hard Case Crime provided a review copy.