Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

No House Limit by Steve Fisher (Bantam A2190)

Joe Martin's Rainbow's End is the only Las Vegas casino that isn't mob-run and is now the location for a marathon crap game lasting three days and nights. Literally challenged in his own backyard, Joe finds himself faced with Bello, a professional gambler purported to be the best in the world and a man who the mob have now sent to clean Joe out. With Bello on a hot streak, can Joe trust a seemingly  innocent schoolteacher called Sunny Guido to get him out of a jam, or will the Syndicate finally secure the last of the the independents?

Steve Fisher graduated from the pulps to write some gripping and evocative hardboiled and noir novels, the most famous of which is his Hollywood-set I Wake Up Screaming, as well as a vast number of film and, latterly, TV scripts. Here, he keeps the action fast and furious and the intensity at a consistently high level given that the characters are often literally gambling their futures on the throw of a dice. Their mental and physical exhaustion is also effectively conveyed in what is for the most part an immersive experience, with the pace only flagging when the action moves beyond the claustrophobic casino setting as various subplots are played out.

However, this is still gripping stuff, convincingly written, peopled with hard-boiled archetypes and topped off with a sprinkling of violent action. Fisher's pulp origins are evident in the punchy, direct prose style that doesn't waste words and pitches the reader into the heart of the action in a brisk, exciting and well-told tale.

VERDICT: An odds-on winner!

AFTERWORD: Steve Fisher seems to be one of the genre's unsung and unfairly neglected authors. Many of his novels have been out of print for years and remain elusive and/or expensive on the second-hand market, particularly his earlier ones or the Popular Library editions featuring colourful and pulpy Rudolph Belarski covers. Since I read it, No House Limit has been handsomely reprinted by Hard Case Crime so copies should be easier to obtain. I recommend many of his earlier efforts too, and may post further reviews as drafting this one has rekindled my interest in the unread Fisher titles on my shelves.

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