After doing a stretch in San Quentin, Johnny Hayden decides to commit to a quiet life in middle management. While saving up to buy a local motel and quietly completing a correspondence course in hospitality, Johnny is approached by an old friend with a con to end all cons. Reluctant at first, Johnny eventually caves after careful analysis suggests the plan is a sure thing. The only hiccup? There’s an amateur involved. Will the scheme go off without a hitch or will their accomplice’s inexperience lead to their downfall?
Hard Case Crime has become my go to when I want to relax with a swift read between larger, more demanding novels. This isn't a slight against the quality of work – not at all – I just find the stories read like swift punches to the gut. The writing is very clean and clear and the plots are always interesting. Charles Ardai sure knows what he’s doing when he puts that stamp of approval on a crime novel.
Most of the novel takes place in the Northeast United States as well as Toronto and the scheme itself involves purchasing land in the Canadian Midwest province of Alberta. Knowing what we know now in just how vastly rich that province is, it almost would've have been worth their while to hang onto the land. Johnny and Doug could have been oil tycoons!
Block’s prose is just so easily digestible. I know it’s a short book – only 251 pages (with a very racy cover I might add) – but I flew through this in just two sittings. When it comes to the plot, it’s hard to believe Block hasn't set up one of these cons himself, everything seems so flawless. Well, it’s either that or he was once taken by a smooth-talking grifter himself.
Man, what an ending. I thought I had it all figured out but Block goes and blindsides me like a snow storm in July. It’s everything a Hard Case Crime novel should be, it’s unexpected and brutal. It just goes to show the timeless quality of Block’s work. With the exception of one major difference – lessened security at the airport (no fault of Block’s) – this novel holds up today despite being published nearly 50 years ago.