Hard Case Crime Unearths Another Hidden Gem In Hard-Hitting Storytelling
Sep 4, 2014
I don’t know what it is. Maybe I was born too late. I’ve mentioned before how much I love vintage crime, the type of thing that was being written for the dime novels of the late thirties and forties. Heck, even some of the muck from the fifties I’ve managed to dredge up sounds pretty good by comparison to the stuff on the shelves today … but thank goodness for the team at Hard Case Crime. Since their inception, they’ve been committed to bringing those days old back to blazing, bloody life, even if that means finding something penned much more current but not given the Hard Case treatment.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “The bagmen who transport money for organized crime live by a special set of rules: no relationships, no ties … no alcohol, no women … no talking … and never, ever look inside the bag you’re carrying.”
If that alone doesn’t tickle your fancy, then you’ve really little to no interest in what’s trapped between this cover. This yarn by writer/director Samuel Fuller blisters with action and intrigue, the type of which usually gets ignored by so much of ‘mainstream’ literature. After all, how many critics have essentially dismissed the mystery as having no legitimate place in literary history? I’ve read those criticisms on more than one occasion, and all I can say is if they don’t want ‘em then I’ll be happy to read ‘em as time permits.
BRAINQUAKE starts with a riveting set-up – a murder seemingly committed by the least likely suspect – and then it continues to amaze and amuse from there. Paul Page appears to be an ordinary bagman – non-descript face, blends into a crowd, keeps his nose where it belongs and minces words with no one – but secretly he’s led a life troubled by a unique medical condition: he suffers what he calls a ‘brainquake,’ which resembles a seizure except for the fact that these episodes cause hallucinations that can lead him to acting out violently from what he sees. And they’re entirely unpredictable; though Paul’s been able to identify a few warning signs (some sounds accompanying a change of scene invoking the color pink), the man is almost entirely beside himself when they occur.
To make matters worse, he’s done the unthinkable – he’s gone against the grain and taken interest in a woman. She’s no ordinary woman – Michelle is the widow to a former gangster, and that means the forces of evil have never been all that far away from her. Despite an outer appearance of being an angel, she’s definitely not opposed to bending the law when it suits her needs. And she’s used to getting what she wants, especially when it involves large sums of money that can’t be traced back to her.
These two make an unlikely couple, and that’s mostly because even the reader knows whatever happiness they could’ve found (under different circumstances) wouldn’t have lasted anyway. Besides, it ain’t a ‘couple’ when one of the two isn’t being honest. Despite the fact that he’s been nothing but reliable for the criminal organization he serves, Paul is about to break a few rules in pursuit of a life he should’ve known was never truly possible. Not for people like him.
Fuller works his way comfortably around crime, weaving a cautionary tale about greed and envy only the way a true master storyteller could. BRAINQUAKE only lags in a few places – those weighed down by some incidental character exposition that probably would’ve been trimmed if publication had happened under different circumstances – but that isn’t to say it has any ‘fat’ on its bones. The director liked his characters the way he liked his dialogue – lean, quick, and to the point. Look past these lesser passages, and I suspect you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did.
BRAINQUAKE (2014) is published by Titan Books under the Hard Case Crime imprint. It was written by Samuel Fuller. It retails (softcover) for the low, low price of $12.95, and that’s a bargain so far as this fan is concerned.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Listen up: I devoured BRAINQUAKE in two sittings. It was that riveting, that compelling, that interesting. I’ve no idea when Fuller wrote it (clearly there are references in there that would put it in the 1990’s) but it reads, burns, and feels like something written decades earlier … back when men were men and women – real women – refused to be kept on a leash, instead choosing to tempt fate with whatever feminine wiles they’d muster, and they were deadly like knives. Massively entertaining, just the way you expect ‘em from the peeps at Hard Case Crime.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Titan Books provided me with a reading copy of BRAINQUAKE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.