Friday, May 22, 2009

Hard Case Crime and "A Sound of Distant Drums"

I only recently discovered that there's a thread that ties together a number of the novels published by Hard Case Crime — and it's not just the distinctive cover design. Here's an explanation from HCC editor Charles Ardai from 2005:

"Back in the PBO era, a number of writers, including Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block, made an in-joke out of including references to A Sound of Distant Drums in their books.... So when the time came for [Max Phillips and I] to write our books for the line, we carried on the tradition."

Here are the occurrences I've found so far:

Lawrence Block: I found a good restaurant where they served me a blood-rare steak and very black coffee. I lingered awhile over a second cup of coffee, then went out and found a movie. [It] was lousy, a historical epic called A Sound of Distant Drums, a technicolor cinemascope package with pretty girls and flashing swords and people getting themselves killed flamboyantly. I dozed through most of it.
— from Grifter's Game (a.k.a. Mona), p. 39.

Donald E. Westlake: A little after midnight, we went down to 42nd Street and saw an important movie that had been made from a Broadway play called A Sound of Distant Drums. It was about homosexuality and what a burden it was, but the hero bore the burden girlfully. It didn't convert me.
— from 361, p. 95.

Lawrence Block: It was evening. Joe was lying on a bed, book in his hand, a western entitled A Sound of Distant Drums, by James Blue. Anita was sitting on the edge of the other bed and staring emptily across the room.
— from A Diet of Treacle (a.k.a. Pads Are for Passion), p. 179.

Donald E. Westlake: Cy Grildquist?... He's got a play on Broadway right now. A Sound of Distant Drums. A good money-maker.
— from The Cutie (a.k.a. The Mercenaries), pp. 147–148.

Max Phillips: "You're Billy Metz," I said.... "William R. Metz. Production design at Paramount. You were really up there for a while.... Catherine the Great's palace in Scarlet Monarch. That big, ah, that kind of desert fortress in A Sound of Distant Drums. Lemme think."
— from Fade to Blonde, p. 141.

Richard Aleas (Charles Ardai): A video store was promoting the latest Chow Yun-Fat import, a film whose two-character Chinese title was translated as A Sound of Distant Drums.
— from Little Girl Lost, p. 133.

Ardai explicitly states that there were other authors involved in this literary game, so any additions to this list will be greatly appreciated, whether HCC books or not. This is a fun little piece of trivia, and I'm interested in pursuing it with your help.

5 comments:

David Cranmer said...

That is very interesting. I have most of the books you mentioned and I had no idea.

JZID said...

I've been reading a lot of early Block and Westlake and keeping an eye out for "Distant Drums" references. I most recently found one in "Killing Time," by Donald Westlake. (This was his 2nd book after the Cutie, or The Merceneries as it was originally published as.)

From Chapter 12: (In reference to a manuscript for a play)

"I leaned forward and read the title upside down. A Sound of Distant Drums. If It was a hit, it would be George's first."

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for the addition!

112268333756271841750 said...

'why me', by westlake

"Okay." Kelp turned right, drove downtown to Greenwich Village, turned left on 8th Street, and parked just shy of the theater, whose marquee advertised "American Premiere—A Sound of Distant Drums." That was the movie May had told Dortmunder she intended to see tonight, telling him about it last night, making small talk while Dortmunder's hand had soaked in the Palmolive Liquid.
...............
"Good. It was about the evils of European influence in Africa in the last part of the nineteenth century. Very interesting soft-focus camera work. Lyrical."

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for that great addition. I had no idea he was still doing it as late as the 1980s.

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