The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

A Hardcover Honey Review

The Hard Bounce - Todd Robinson

When I was a sullen pre-teen, one of my favorite activities was going with my mom to get her hair cut and colored.  Not so I could watch that tedious process, but because next door to the salon in the unassuming little strip mall was the amazing Book Rack, a used paperback store rife with that used-paperback-store smell, stacks and stacks of bent paperbacks separated by genre and author, and friendly employees who didn't care that I sat in a corner with stacks of books around me, trying to narrow it down to two or three that I could buy when my mom came into the store after her appointment was over.  Book Rack is where I branched out from my battered Stephen King books and discovered other authors I grew to love, like Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter), Robert McCammon, Donald E. Westlake, and Robert B. Parker.  

Several of these authors wrote mysteries or noir rather than straight-up horror, of course, but when you get down to it, isn't that scarier, reading about the horrible things we do to each other rather than the creature under the bed?  Although obviously King's "It" scared the living shit out of me, I figure I am less likely to encounter a sewer-dwelling clown than I am to come across the twisted and shady characters that inhabit the world of McBain's 87th Precinct novels or Parker's Spenser books. And with the employment market being what it is, I figure at least two or three people have come across someone like Burke Devore, the murderous job-seeker of Westlake's "The Ax".

I was saddened by the recent deaths of Westlake, McBain and Parker, and wondering who would be able to fill their shoes.  As I've grown up, I have found that some of my favorite authors currently working in dark fiction are women - Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, Kelly Braffet, and Sara Gran among them.  Via Goodreads, Megan Abbott recently turned me on to an amazing new book - Todd Robinson's debut novel "The Hard Bounce" - and for this Jewish girl, it was something of a Christmas miracle to find myself so engrossed in a book that I read the whole thing in one day.  The last time I can remember doing that was Abbott's own "Dare Me", which was also terrific.  Reading Robinson's Boston-set book was like stepping back into my middle school Spenser novel binge, but with a darker, grittier bent.  

Focusing on burly bar bouncer/security type Boo Malone and his sidekick, tattooed tough guy Junior, the story has a familiar Parker-esque bent.  Boo and Junior (who met as kids in a facility called "The Home", described as "half juvenile detention, half state-funded residence") are asked to find a missing teenage girl, who turns out to be the daughter of a local political heavyweight.  Their search is, for the most part, technology-free, as they use local connections, stakeouts, etc to track down their quarry. They quickly find themselves drawn into power plays and manipulations from Boston's higher-ups, both mobsters and law-enforcers.  The story takes a nasty turn when they come across torture-porn DVDs, described in spare but unsettling language, and featuring several clearly underage girls, including the one they seek.  When one of the DVDs appears to be a snuff film, things get even uglier.

The book twists and turns in ways I wasn't expecting - which is always a treat.  The characters were indelible, as Robinson takes his time introducing a memorable supporting cast (Underdog the barfly junkie, Cade the cauliflower-eared mobster, Ollie the tech-savvy computer geek) and detailing scenes from Boo and Junior's tragic adolescence.  Their friendship felt incredibly real to me and forged in iron.  The action sequences (several fights, some gunplay, and especially memorable interaction with a several-hundred pound video store proprietress) was fast-paced and believable.  As a side note, there's nothing I hate more than having to flip back a few pages to understand the mechanics of an action sequence and that never happened here.  

Though not yet optioned for film, some smart Cali type should definitely pick it up, because "The Hard Bounce" would make an amazing movie - I would love to see what someone like David Fincher could do with it.  There were scenes that reminded me vividly of "Seven" and the 80's suspense flick (and last time I liked Kevin Costner) "No Way Out".   Do yourself a favor once you've finished opening your Christmas presents - settle in your most comfortable chair, knock back some strong coffee and get absorbed into Boo's world.  I will be busy tracking down Robinson's earlier short stories and waiting in hopes that another Boo and Junior book is on the way.

The Verdict: Five suspenseful bookworms out of five - though not technically a horror read, there should be plenty here for any reader who likes a seedy tale.