Still from trailer for The Big Combo (1955) Allied ArtistsJohn Alton, Cinematographer
Six new novels of note.
Kings of Midnight
Minotaur, April 2012. 304 pp.
Kings of Midnight kicks off with a heist destined for the Hall of Fame. The setup may be simple — knocking over an ATM with a tractor, followed by a fast getaway into the woods — but the scene's power lies in Wallace Stroby's uncannily exact imagery, precise language, and narrative credibility. Stroby's depiction of heists is so believable you almost wonder if writing is just a sideline for him. The scene recalls those meticulously choreographed centerpieces from films like Jules Dassin's Rififi (1955) and Hubert Cornfield's Plunder Road (1957), in which minute details of movement are amplified to anxiety-inducing extremes. So much tension, but so little happening. Economy of language has been a key element of crime fiction since the days of Dashiell Hammett, but Stroby makes it feels fresh and vital again. He doesn't rely on hardboiled clichés or tough guy lingo. Kings of Midnight is, in large part, a quiet book when it comes to dialogue. The attitude is all in the action — and action speaks louder than words.
Kings of Midnight is a follow-up to last year's Cold Shot to the Heart, which first introduced career criminal Crissa Stone. Like Richard Stark's Parker before her, Crissa is a stone-cold thief who finds redemption in professionalism. But unlike Parker, Crissa is no existential enigma. Stroby gives us just enough fleeting glimpses of her personal life — a lover behind bars in Texas, a daughter who lives with relatives and doesn't know her real mother's identity — to lend her actions a sincere urgency, and to explain why, at this point, her job is her whole life. She lives for her family, even if she can't see them, and raising this money is the only way she can connect with them, even if they don't receive it directly. Some of the money goes to bribing officials to get her lover released from jail, and the rest goes to her daughter, either through her caretakers or a secret account.
Stroby grounded Cold Shot to the Heart in realism, avoiding excess, paring phrases down to their utmost efficiency — but Kings of Midnight takes this aesthetic even further, and amps up the excitement. The novel begins with two parallel stories, which eventually converge. There's Crissa, who returns to New York City to make some quick, clean cash after the ATM score goes sour. Then there's Benny Roth, an old-time mobster turned stool pigeon who got sick of living under witness protection and walked away from everything, taking a job as a dishwasher. When a fellow mobster from Benny's past shows up and demands to know where he stashed the legendary $5 million from a 1978 Lufthansa heist, the retiree is thrown back into action. Taking it on the lam with his much younger girlfriend, he heads back to New York, hoping to get to the loot before his rivals do. He'll need a pro for that: someone desperate enough to team up with an old man not at the top of his game and go for a big score that might not even exist...
Kings of Mi...