Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Hard Bounce

Todd Robinson has been known for years to those on the inside as Big Daddy Thug, the founder and driving force of Thuglit, one of the most respected noir fiction web sites. (Also the only man alive cool enough to close a rejection letter with, “I’ll go fuck myself now.”) Few have spent the time, effort, and dedication to create not only their own vision, but to help other writers create theirs. There had to be a book of his own in this guy somewhere.

You bet your ass there was. He called it The Hard Bounce. Ain’t nothing easy in a Big Daddy Thug joint.

Boo Malone runs a bar security company with his partner, Junior. Raised in the same orphanage, Boo and Junior have had each other’s backs for as long as either needed someone to have his back. It’s a shoestring operation, working out of the back of one of the bars, but business is growing and both are about as well satisfied as these two are likely to get. They’re irritated when a good-looking but stiff young woman comes to them with a job, but won’t tell them who the real employer is. They’re pissed when they see she came with an ex-cop for backup. It’s a wandering daughter job they know they shouldn’t accept, but the money—and other considerations—are too good.

The Hard Bounce is a PI story without the PIs. The bows to Hammett at the outset set the tone. (Robinson never uses the phrase “wandering daughter job,” but that’s what it is: a powerful man’s kid is missing. No one ever says, “We didn’t really believe you. We believed your two hundred dollars,” either, but that’s exactly what happens. They were offered more than the job should have been worth, but enough more they didn’t mind.) On the plus side, Boo and Junior don’t have to worry about losing their licenses; they don’t have any. Armed with their wits and a small cadre of friends from the orphanage, they’ll find the girl, and, as in any great PI story, a lot more.

The core that holds the book together is the rapport between Boo and Junior. There is nothing they wouldn’t do for each other, though neither can assume sacrifices will be made without comment. They’re funny in the male-bonding, insulting way, even in dire circumstances, though Robinson know the way to keep The Hard Bounce from becoming another cookie-cutter buddy action story is to keep the humor when under the gun more along the lines of whistling through a graveyard.

The characters around them play well. Each fills a role; none were obviously created to do only that. Boo and Junior have the psycho sidekick, but he’s used mostly as an advisor, or a reminder of how they don’t want to handle the problem.

Robinson is also able to avoid the primary pitfall of so much neo-noir, writing The Hard Bounce with sufficient darkness to be taken seriously, not so much you’ll feel dirty after reading it. The bad guys are no more gratuitously bad than is believable. Robinson’s not in the titillation business. He is in the grit business, and no one gets through the story without at least some sticking to them.

Robinson spent almost ten years to find a publisher willing to give The Hard Bounce a chance. It was time well-spent. Such a road is an honorable beginning for a writer. James Lee Burke had the same book rejected 111 times over a period of nine years; Elmore Leonard endured 84 rejections to make the move from Westerns to crime. Robinson has not only created a story and characters to fully engage even a picky reader, he may well have created a franchise with some legs.

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