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Book Review: 'The Charleston Knife is Back in Town'

Pulp Pulpit

Many commentators to consider the Hardman series by Ralph Dennis to be an unsung gem among the 1970s' men's action paperbacks -- essentially that era's equivalent to the "hero pulps" of the 1930s' and 40s'. The late Ralph Dennis wrote the series, which featured a doughy, middle-aged ex-cop named Hardman and his sidekick Hump -- a former player with the Falcons who now supports his playboy lifestyle in Atlanta as a sort of bad-ass for hire.

Hardman is white and Hump is black, which colors some of their interactions with each other and others. This seems like cliched stuff now but was more daring several decades ago. The characters also have a chemistry that makes them convincing and funny. If it sounds familiar, there are definite similarities between this series and more mainstream fare such as the Spenser for Hire series by the late Robert Parker.

Joe Lansdale admitted in print that his critically acclaimed Hap and Leonard series was influenced by the Hardman Books. He also wrote the entertaining introduction to the first few 2018 reprints of the series.

The first book in the series, 'Atlanta Deathwatch,' is entertaining enough. But the second book, 'The Charleston Knife is Back in Town,' is a slight improvement due to a more compelling plot and a threatening villain.

The plot involves group of young thieves who find themselves out of their depth when they rob the players in a high-stakes poker game at a party held by black underworld figures. The victim hire an enigmatic hit an known as the Charleston Knife who is almost an urban legend. The good guys are hired by a concerned mother to find the thieves before the killer does.

The action, humor, use of Atlanta locales and observations on human frailty don't put this book on the level of, say Kurt Vonnegut, but the book is well above others of its type and definitely entertains. Hardman makes a grounded leading character with Hump providing an engaging counterpoint. This is recommended for readers who enjoy the genre and want to try something that breaks the boiler plate.


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