THE HARD CASE CRIME FILES
Charlesgate Confidential by Scott Von Doviak
A Book Review by Justin Partridge
Hard Case Crime has been a pillar of the publishing community for over a decade now. I don’t feel like we talk about that NEARLY enough. Branching from prose to comic books, as an arm of Titan Comics, Hard Case Crime brings unseen works from major names from across culture, names like Samuel Fuller, Harlan Ellison, and Donald E. Westlake, and just unleashes them onto readers, wrapped in gorgeously lurid covers, often times Robert McGinnis and Drew Struzan originals.
This is what led me to create this, a monthly column dedicated to the lurid thrills of this consistently great canon, focusing on a single work from the publisher. And what a goddamn treat do I have for you all for this debut entry. The first publication anywhere of writer Scott Von Doviak’s Charlesgate Confidential, a rollicking novel based around a real-life Boston crime legend! We will eventually get to some of the bigger offerings from Hard Case later on, but 2018’s Charlesgate Confidential is precisely the right note to start this new column off with and a page-turner of a read for those new to the line.
The Charlesgate Hotel is a real building that has stood in Boston since the 1890s. It has naturally switched owners a lot over the years, but it has become something of a Bostonian legend throughout its existence. Another Boston legend is one of a robbery of a Boston museum in 1946. This one that still to this day is unsolved. At least a dozen priceless paintings were stolen by two men masquerading as policemen, never to be seen again. I only tell you these two stone cold facts to illustrate the mastery of Scott Von Doviak’s manuscript. As he takes both of these facts, the former strengthened by the fact that Von Doviak himself LIVED in the Charlesgate for a time as a student, just like one of the book’s protagonists. He weaves them into an endlessly readable yarn of crime across the decades.
Starting with the knocking over of a poker night of made men by a trio of jabronis in the Forties, Von Doviak spreads this story neatly over that decade, the late Eighties, and 2014. Each decade is rocking their own full casts with canny, but never heavy-handed overlap. The casts themselves are also sparkling with personality and texture. It really is a sight to behold just as a reader. The concept keeps from getting to baroque thanks to clear date stamps serving as the chapter titles. This might turn off readers looking for a more, I dunno, untethered experience? But for me, it just added to the dynamism and forward momentum of the story.
Von Doviak’s prose itself is very punchy, and very hard not to engulf in one sitting. The closest comparison I can make is to Elmore Leonard. I know that might be lofty. He kind of gets tied up in some pop culture set dressing, especially in the chapters set in the Eighties (Von Doviak works as a critic for the A.V. Club. You can see why in these scenes), but it never skews into Ready Player One territory, thank Christ. Mainly because the chapters in the past and “present day” really hammer home the story’s hard-knuckled tone and driving mystery at the center of the book.
And I really must assure you. This is not just me blowing smoke because this is the opening of a new column! Charlesgate Confidential really is that fun and richly written. I often had to stop myself as I read from not just finishing it in one sitting. Mainly because, while it stands very well as its own thing, a very, very Bostonian noir that is wrapped around the town’s very culture and DNA, but it also gives new readers the best possible example of what Hard Case Crime is all about.
You have your thrills, your crime, your stylish action set pieces, and best of all, you get a contained, satisfying single read. I know that may make me sound super old fashioned, but I appreciate the episodic nature of this line. I think it will be something we really dig into a lot as we read deeper into these. Sure a series is fun, but wouldn’t you like, every once and a while, to know that you are just getting something quick and fun AND legitimate in terms of literature? At least it gives you something else to talk about at snobby book parties, right? Or that may just be me.
Verdict: READ IT
My social anxiety aside, Charlesgate Confidential is one hell of a good time and a tremendous book to start us down this road of reviewing ruin. I know for a fact that all of you have seen these books out and about in your book buying travels and I implore you, if you have never read any of them before and have been wondering what they are all about, then pick up Charlesgate Confidential and just have an absolute blast. It is available digitally as well. However, I always recommend getting the physical copies of these. The artwork is always a sight to behold and the trade dressing of these make them ready made for display.
One down, many more to go! I am truly excited about this series and if you have any suggestions drop me a line. I would tell you what I am covering next, but if I did, some Pinkertons will come round and put me through a window (at least that’s what the Hard Case Crime PR people told me, and frankly, I believe them). Until next time, be seeing you!