Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Say It With Bullets by Richard Powell (Hard Case Crime)

Since September 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, I will be reprinting my reviews of the first 40 books from my old (and now mostly defunct) Craig's Book Club site — 2 for the first 10 days, and 1 a day for the next 20. I hope you enjoy this refresher course in the variety of crime fiction that this fascinating publisher has to offer.

"At the overnight stop in North Platte, Nebraska, Bill Wayne didn’t copy the other tourists in the party when they bought postcards to mail to friends. He was running a little low on friends these days. Once he had classed five guys as friends but they had picked up a habit of doing things behind his back, like shooting at it. The only wish-you-were-here postcard he wanted to send them was a picture of a cemetery." — from Say It With Bullets

Bill Wayne is on a bus tour of the Old West, but he's not in it for the advertised relaxation. Conveniently, the Treasure Trip makes stops in the five cities where his five Army buddies live. At least, they were his buddies until one of them shot him in the back and left him for dead.

Now he's going from city to city (Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) to talk with each of the men (Russ, Ken, Frankie, Cappy, and Domenic) to try and find out who did the shooting. Of course, if the first one doesn't spill, Bill will just have to kill him, and each one in turn until he gets to the bottom of things. A pretty simple plan, really.

It's too bad he didn't take into account pretty blond tour guide Holly Clark, a girl from his past who is very interested in getting reacquainted. Interested enough to dog his every footstep, and observant enough to eventually put some pieces together.

And if that weren't bad enough, Holly's latest suitor is Cheyenne deputy sheriff Carson Smith, who has taken to following her throughout the tour. How is a man supposed to get anything done in this kind of situation?

Author Richard Powell (A Shot in the Dark and the Andy and Arabella Blake series) is not Dick Powell the actor, but Say It With Bullets would have been an ideal vehicle for the actor in his heyday (see Murder, My Sweet and others).

It has a great blend of humor and tension in almost equal amounts (Bill Wayne is a terrific narrator, very self-aware and quick with a quip) that more than makes up for its somewhat predictable conclusion. And the characters all have wonderfully human foibles, including a dash of unexplained jealousy that even the jealous person doesn't quite fathom.

A descriptive taste of each of the cities adds to the experience, and Say It With Bullets is also incredibly fast-paced. In fact, I had intended on it being my current coat-pocket paperback, savoring it intermittently in waiting rooms and in line at the checkout. But Richard Powell's tale, to paraphrase a pop standard, "made me [finish it]. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do it...." (My only quibble has to do with its being the fifth reprint in a row to come from the Hard Case Crime archives. I preferred the previous mix of old and new — even though they're all new to me.)

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails