Book 2 (of 52) – Billy Summers

Billy Summers – Stephen King

A contract killer takes one last job, one which has him decamping in place for months prior to the hit.  After the job is complete, he realizes that he was part of the contract and was not meant to survive.  As he plots his revenge, he makes a new friend, a young woman chewed up and spit out by life, who accompanies him on his travel west.  Can Billy get what is owed him while keeping his new friend safe and out of the life?

Billy Summers, the latest from Stephen King, is a straight crime story, aside from one instance of mystical nonsense which could have been dropped completely without impacting the story at all, which is a departure from his work.  This is a side of King that I have not had much experience with, aside from his work for the Hard Case Crime imprint, but I like it and I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more if it.

Prolific Authors – 14 Books

Way back in December of 2011 (and again every other December since), we’ve taken a look at the authors I have read the most, dating back to high school.  This year, since I’ve far surpassed my reading output of any year on record, I thought it would be nice to take a deeper dive into those books I’ve read through August. Since our last check-in, I’ve read an additional 60 books from 54 different authors. There shouldn’t be much movement over the past 2 years, but it’s time to take another look and see if my “favorite” authors have changed much in that time span.  We continue today with the two authors I’ve read 14 times.

Jeffery Deaver

In 1999, the first entry of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series, The Bone Collector, was adapted into a film starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.  Around that time, I picked up a paperback copy, which I read in 2000.  I slowly added additional titles as I would find them as remainders, picking up new hard covers for $3 or $4.

The Vanished Man – Jeffery Deaver

Things increased in 2015, when I started picking up titles on deals through the Amazon Kindle store, leading to 10 additional books added to my read bookshelf, with The Cold Moon being the most recent prior to the start of this countdown.

Stephen King

I first read King’s work during my freshman year of high school.  In fact, I remember reading Pet Sematary after finishing my Biology final at the end of freshman year, waiting for the class to be dismissed.  My total reached 9 novels by 1993, but then college and other pursuits got in the way and King fell out of my favor.

Stephen King – 11/22/63

That changed in 2012, when the release of 11/22/63 brought me back in to the King fold.  I’ve added 5 of his more current work, most of which has been through the Hard Case Crime imprint, which limited, but did not completely remove, the horror elements.

Prolific Authors – 9 Books

Way back in December of 2011 (and again every other December since), we’ve taken a look at the authors I have read the most, dating back to high school.  This year, since I’ve far surpassed my reading output of any year on record, I thought it would be nice to take a deeper dive into those books I’ve read through August. Since our last check-in, I’ve read an additional 60 books from 54 different authors. There shouldn’t be much movement over the past 2 years, but it’s time to take another look and see if my “favorite” authors have changed much in that time span.  Today, we continue with the two authors I’ve read 9 times.

Michael Jan Friedman

Known primarily for licensed works, Friedman first entered my world in 1990, thanks to a trio of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels.  There were another two in 1992 and then he reappeared in 1996 with another trio of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman tie-ins.  That was it until he reappeared on my radar earlier this year, with yet another Next Gen entry.

Erle Stanley Gardner

I’ve been aware of Gardner as the creator of Perry Mason for years, but had never read any of his work until 2015, when Hard Case Crime released the first of their republishing of his Cool and Lam series, written under the penname A.A. Fair.  Since that time, five entries of the series have been released.  Thanks to the new HBO interpretation of Perry Mason, a number of those books have been republished as well, four of which I’ve read over the past 2 years.

Book 10 (of 52) – Later

Later – Stephen King

Later, Stephen King’s third effort for the Hard Case Crime imprint, tells the tale of a young man who has the ability to see and interact with the dead, at least for a few days after their passing.  Unfortunately for him, when he is forced to use his “talents” to help his mother save her struggling business, he exposes himself to her girlfriend, an unstable cop with IA on her tail.  As he grows up, she twice kidnaps him, looking to use him to her advantage, first to stop a serial bomber who had just committed suicide and, finally, to set herself up with a huge drug score after killing her dealer.

The horror elements that one usually associates with Stephen King mostly take a back seat here, although there is a mysterious ghost/demon that shows up from time to time, as King once again uses this imprint to tell a different kind of story.  I’ve enjoyed this side of King’s work in the past and will look forward to more of it in the future.

Book 20 (of 52) – Shills Can’t Cash Chips

Shills Can’t Cash Chips – Erle Stanley Gardner

Originally published in 1963, Shills Can’t Cash Chips was the 22nd installment of the Cool and Lam series Erle Stanley Gardner wrote under the pseudonym of A. A. Fair, and the 5th republished by Hard Case Crime.  When Cool and Lam are hired for a seemingly legitimate job to help investigate an insurance claim, things take a turn and Lam finds himself wanted for murder.  In order to clear his name, Lam must figure out the secret of the car accident at the center of the insurance claim and how all of the different players tie together.

These pulps bring you back to a different, simpler time, where the world wasn’t wired (in more ways than one) the way it is today.  Reprinting episodes from this series still appears to be a yearly event, so I look forward to the next installment sometime next year.

Book 13 (of 52) – The Colorado Kid

The Colorado Kid – Stephen King

The Colorado Kid, a short novel by Stephen King, is a mystery about a mystery in a small, New England town.  A young intern at the town’s small paper, finally earning the trust of her 2 bosses, is told the tale of a body that had washed up and was found by two local kids.  The man, eventually identified, was from Colorado, where he was seen the day before.  How did he get back east without anyone noticing he had left Colorado?  How did he die?  Why did he come?

The questions abound, and are not to be found within the pages of King’s first contribution to Hard Case Crime.  It’s an interesting mystery, and there probably isn’t a satisfying answer to be found.

 

Book 3 (of 52) – Understudy For Death

Understudy For Death – Charles Willeford

When a seemingly happy housewife kills herself and her two children, a reporter for the local paper is assigned to find out why. Along the way, he finds dissatisfaction with his own life, finally deciding that devotion to his wife and son are enough for him.

Originally titled Understudy For Love when it was first published in 1961, the work by Charles Willeford was not quite what I was expecting.  This wasn’t a crime novel, per se, but rather a character study of an unsure man trying to find his way while investigating a crime.  I’ve had good experiences with the output from Hard Case Crime in the past, but this was, at least for me, the first clunker.

 

Book 21 (of 52) – The Count Of 9

The Count Of 9 – Erle Stanley Gardner

Originally published in 1958, The Count of 9 was the 18th installment of the Cool and Lam series Erle Stanley Gardner wrote under the pseudonym of A. A. Fair, and the 4th republished by Hard Case Crime.  When Cool and Lam are hired to protect the treasures of a globe-trotting adventurer, they are forced to confront an impossible crime.  But that’s nothing compared to the crime they face next: the impossible murder of their client.

These pulps bring you back to a different, simpler time, where the world wasn’t wired (in more ways than one) the way it is today.  It seems that reprinting episodes from this series is going to be a yearly event, so I look forward to the next installment sometime next year.

 

Book 25 (of 52) – Turn On The Heat

Turn On The Heat – Erle Stanley Gardner as A.A. Fair

After the publishers of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Cool & Lam series rejected his second installment back in 1939, he came back with the manuscript for Turn On The Heat, originally published in January of 1940. Republished earlier this year by the fine folks at Hard Case Crime, the pulp novel tells the tale of a mystery surrounding a doctor, his missing socialite former wife, and a murder that may tie them back together again.  Cool and Lam try to untangle the mess and figure out what’s truly going on before they, and their client, take the fall.

That makes 3 of the 30 Cool and Lam offerings that Gardner wrote, under the name A.A. Fair, that have been republished by Hard Case Crime.  I don’t know if they have plans for more, but I’d be a willing participant if they do.

 

Book 10 (of 52) – The Knife Slipped

The Knife Slipped – Erle Stanley Gardner as A.A. Fair

Intended to be the second installment of the Cool and Lam series in 1939, The Knife Slipped, by Erle Stanley Gardner writing under the pseudonym of A.A. Fair, was rejected by the publisher for being too crude.  Rather than rework the idea, Gardner moved on to others and the manuscript sat for more than 75 years until last year, where it finally saw print thanks to the folks at Hard Case Crime.

In this tale, the firm takes on a case of a woman who believes her daughter’s husband is cheating on her, which leads Lam on to police corruption, politics, and, of course, murder.  Blamed for the death of his target, Lam goes on the, well, lam to find out who was really behind the murder and how the corruption played in while Cool tries to work herself in to the corruption, getting herself a piece of the action.

My first experience with Gardner’s work, aside from watching Perry Mason on television, was a later book in this series which I read 2 years ago.  These pulps bring you back to a different, simpler time, where the world wasn’t wired (in more ways than one) the way it is today.  Another installment is planned to be published later this year, and I look forward to getting my hands on it.