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The Real Noir Deal,
This review is from: The Ice Harvest: A Novel (Paperback)
Charlie Arglist is a crooked attorney who, with his associate Vic, has ripped off a large sum of money from his employer, the mob boss of Wichita. It's Christmas Eve, 1979, and Charlie is making the rounds of strip bars, killing time until he can make his escape in the morning. As the long night wears on Charlie gradually realizes that his scheme has gone horribly, horribly wrong. The bodies begin to pile up and Charlie becomes more and more desperate until it all leads to a mordantly ironic conclusion. "The Ice Harvest" is a short, sharp shocker. It's set in the worst year of the worst decade in recent American history, and is wonderfully satirical in its tour of the sleazy stripper-and-porn underbelly of midwestern America.
Like many others I first became aware of this novel because of the John Cusack-Billy Bob Thornton movie version. Screenwriters Robert Benton and Richard Russo came up with some memorably witty dialogue and fleshed out some of the characters like Thornton's Vic, Oliver Platt as Charlie's drunken buddy, and Randy Quaid's scary gangster. But uncertain and meandering direction caused the tension to slacken. Worse, rather than the book's swift decent into hell, the filmmakers imply that Charlie's ordeal has finally made a man out of him, which is a serious misreading of the novel. And they tacked on a ridiculous "happy" ending instead of Phillips' bitter surprise coda.
So stick with the novel. The blurbs on the hardcover edition compare it to James Crumley, Jim Thompson, and James M. Cain. High praise indeed, but "The Ice Harvest" certainly earns it.