THE HARD CASE CRIME FILES
Are Snakes Necessary?
By Brian De Palma & Susan Lehman
A cinematic titan makes his literary debut in Hard Case Crime’s latest release Are Snakes Necessary?
Welcome back to The Hard Case Crime Files, Rogues Portal’s periodic celebration of the lurid, smoke-singed joy that are the Hard Case Crime novels. And boy, do I have a doozy for you palookas today. Hitting shelves today (as of this writing), March 17th, is HHC’s 144th release. A few weeks back, the very kind people at Hard Case Crime HQ sent me a copy of the said book, Are Snakes Necessary? This book is co-authored by none other than Brian De Palma, director of such classics as Scarface, the original Mission: Impossible, Dressed to Kill, and scores of others.
Teaming with New York Times editor and journalist Susan Lehman, the director’s Hard Case Crime debut is vintage De Palma. Set in the shadowy world of government fixers and mistresses, Are Snakes Necessary? delivers a steamy, punchy, and constantly twisting yarn, one that not only exemplifies the best De Palma pictures but one that bares the standard of Hard Case Crime very well. Though the extemporaneous writing style and somewhat dated language peppered throughout the novel might keep it from being an instant pulp classic, Are Snakes Necessary? is an appropriately nasty, page-turning new effort from De Palma and Hard Case Crime.
Senator Lee Rogers and his brutish fixer Barton Brock are powerful men. These men are so powerful that women like young videographer Fanny Cours and down-on-her-luck waitress Elizabeth deCarlo barely even register to them. But when all four are pulled into each other’s orbit, all in the shadow of back-to-back senatorial campaigns, what follows is a tension-packed tale of sex, betrayal, and murder. Working with a fairly lean cast and surprising scope of time, De Palma and Lehman hit the ground running in this debut novel.
The pair pounce from lead to lead, employing a sort of loose mix of first and third-person viewpoints, and establishes a quick pace from the jump. Each chapter is only a few pages long, which gives the novel overall a breezy, quicksmart pacing. This both works well for and against the novel. At its best, it keeps the action of the novel clipping along, injecting a real compulsory feeling into the prose as you barrel from scene to scene. In other sections, it comes across truncated and neglects certain main cast members. Elizabeth, in particular, drops out of the book for a stretch only to pop back up again later.
There is also the matter of De Palma and Lehman’s choice of language in certain parts. Though seemingly set in the “present” (though time is seldom concretely established outside of background information), the pair saddle some characters with jarring older turns of phrase or anachronistic pop culture references. This clash also extends to Fanny, who, being the youngest character of the cast at 18, is cursed with a slightly tone-deaf approximation of “youth speak.” She’s given a few “as ifs” and Valley Girl bubbliness undercutting her righteous anger at the men of this story.
But even these are just slight bumps in the lurid fun of the whole story. Armed with an almost curt tonality and constant twists, De Palma and Lehman deliver some grade-A choice pulpiness, quickly setting the table of the story only to upend the whole thing once they so. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sections set in Las Vegas and Paris. Our tale of “dirty politics” takes a fun turn into film theory edged with the classic pulp set up of a mafia moll taking a younger, unsullied lover from outside of “The Life.” To spoil how these cities connect to our main narrative would be to give away the book’s best secrets. Trust me when I say, it’s all one hell of a read.
Like my first Hard Case Crime Files entry, Charlesgate Confidential, I found Are Snakes Necessary? almost impossible to put down. And barring a few of the stumbles detailed above, I’m not sure you will be able to put it down either. With its brisk tone, consistent sexiness, and sudden shocks, the 144th release from Hard Case Crime is another worthy addition to their canon. One with an extra jolt of star power, adding Brian De Palma’s name to their already impressive collection of collaborators. Standing as the best of both the creative and imprint Are Snakes Necessary? is a steamy, slightly shaky winner for Hard Case Crime.
Brian De Palma was born for pulp fiction. And barring a few discordant turns of phrases, his and Susan Lehman’s debut novel is a sexy, delightfully wicked romp. One more than worthy of the Hard Case Crime masthead. Are Snakes Necessary? is available now, in print and digital editions, wherever books are sold.
PREVIOUS HARD CASE CRIME FILES
Charlesgate Confidential by Scott Von Doviak (Hard Case Crime #135)