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The Gutter and the Grave (Hard Case Crime) Mass Market Paperback – April 12, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
First published as by "Curt Cannon" under the title I'm Cannon—For Hire (1958), this revised reissue reminds readers that the late McBain had some serious noir chops. Betrayed by a dame, former PI Matt Cordell has fallen hard and become a bum in New York City's Bowery district. Cordell's decision to help old friend Johnny Bridges, a tailor, investigate petty larceny at his store soon leads to a series of murders and some steamy encounters with the "fair sex," including a femme fatale. A strong cast of characters—from rival private eye Dennis Knowles to tailor's assistant Dave Ryan—creates a tangled web of deceit, with lies piling up faster than tokens in a subway station. But the best thing about the novel is the hard-boiled Cordell as the archetypal noir antihero, fated to failure even in success. Of necessity, the story is dated, but the pleasure of following the exploits of a forefather of such later icons as Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder more than compensates. Fittingly, McBain has come full circle with the re-release of this revamped early novel at the end of his long and distinguished career.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Born Salvatore Lombino, his name legally changed to Evan Hunter, the writer best known as Ed McBain had just proofed the galleys of this reprint when he died on July 6. Originally published under another pseudonym (Curt Cannon) with a title he hated (I'm Cannon--for Hire), this edition, we're told, restores the book to the author's original vision. A plot summary begs for pulpy hyperbole: Matt Cordell was a private detective with a thriving practice and a beautiful wife--until he found his wife in another man's arms! Now he's a Bowery bum, haunted by her betrayal! When an old friend hires him to find a thief, Cordell is snared in a web of death and deceit--and the arms of a dame who just might snap him out of his funk! Under his half-dozen monikers, Hunter wrote more than 100 novels, as well as screenplays, short stories, teleplays, stage plays, and even children's books. Ironically, while he reserved his legal name for his more literary efforts, it's the McBain name and novels that will endure: the 87th Precinct series is considered a benchmark for police procedurals. But it's a testament to the depth of his talent that this little-known noir, practically forgotten since its 1958 publication, delivers intrigue, excitement, and humor that plenty of today's writers would kill for. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
With a begining like that I had high expectations for Gutter and the Grave and this book fulfilled all of them. When the story starts, Matt Cordell has hit rock bottom. He's gone from from being a happily married man with a thriving PI business to a street bum. An old friend from his old neighborhood needs his help on what seems like a pathetically simple matter that turns dangerous and twisted in an instant.
Cordell is not a fun guy but he's fascinating. He doesn't want anyone's pity but he's wallowing in his own. He's a smart guy when it comes to everyone else but mention his wife's name and his brains shut down. He's a tough guy who can take a beating and give one back but he is crushed by a toss of blonde hair. He's been killing himself for years but when an innocent person needs him he pulls himself out of the gutter and goes to work. I liked Cordell, got frustrated with him and rooted for him throughout the book.
The plot of Gutter and Grave is full of turns that I never saw coming. Everyone is lying or telling just enough truth to make things murky. McBain was brilliant when it came to the New York scenes, the side characters and especially the way he handles the murderer. Gutter and the Grave is one of the best of the Hard Case novels I've read so far. Too bad there wasn't a sequel because Cordell is definitley a character who could carry more than one book.
Unfortunately, "The Gutter and the Grave" is not an ageless classic. The sociological commentary and the whole "alcoholic detective" element are part of a depiction of the culture at the time, yet they have a lot of flaws that a modern reader can roll their eyes about.
For example, someone is either an alcoholic or they aren't. They can't just leave the booze behind when there are better things to do. And someone choosing to be a "bum" and then being transformed into a solid citizen due to a shave and a clean suit and a roll in the hay is pretty implausible. But we as a society know much more about the mental and physical aspects of addiction than a pulp fiction writer (or audience) from the 50's would.
Aside from those inconsistencies, what made the novel less fun than I'd hoped was how easy it was to solve the multiple mysteries in the book. I get that Cordell is a drunk, but he's also supposed to be the sharpest person in the book. Everyone else is two steps (or more) behind him, and the reader--if they are paying attention--is likely three steps ahead of Cordell. While I get that making a mystery fun and not terribly difficult to solve for the reader is a good goal, the group of mysteries in this book wouldn't even challenge the Scooby-Doo crew (despite the lack of a rubber-masked villain).
Yet I did find "The Gutter and the Grave" to be a fun, yet dated, detective story. If you can suspend disbelief with the best of them, you'll likely be quite entertained.
McBain has a great style and I enjoy his subtle injection of humor. However, in the three books I've read from him, he always makes one of the women the killer. This might have been extra shocking in the 1950s--the idea that the so-called weaker sex could kill--but it falls flat in contemporary times. I get that I'm the one who bought an old book and I'm willing to give a lot of leeway given the time period a book was created in, but this wasn't twisty or surprising enough. Also, McBain once again uses an addict as an amateur sleuth. Through some miracle, the drunkard protagonist is a genius problem-solver. Most of the drunks I know can't barely get out of bed each morning.