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by Gary Lovisi
INTRODUCTION: The Ultra-boiled Way
Ultra-boiled is hard-boiled . . . on steroids.
So then, what is hard-boiled? To be sure, hard-boiled is a term, and a genre that means different things to different people. The way I describe it is that hard-boiled is pure attitude. Attitude to the core. It’s also a lot more. Some may think it’s only fiction about violence, often very brutal violence, but that’s not a necessary ingredient. Violence is there because we’re talking about realistic crime fiction when we talk hard-boiled, and that means you lay it out truthfully to the reader. Don’t sugarcoat the truth, don’t play it cute. The attitude comes from realizing that truth. No matter how truly rotten or violent it may be. Knowledge of that truth can not help but affect the writer, or his characters, and if done well, the reader as well.
There’s a lot of tough-guy talk and action in some hard-boiled fiction, but that’s not all there is to it either. Others think all that’s important is style, all that wonderful Chandleresque chit-chat which a lot of readers and critics like perhaps too much, but too often these days has entered the area of nostalgia, pastiche, or cliché. However, the real hard-boiler, Dashiell Hammett is, to those in the know, still on top. Carroll John Daly had real heart. Mickey Spillane made you read him. Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich (in his William Irish noir days), Chester Himes and Charles Willeford lived lives no writer could ever make up and their work soared because of it. Or, in spite of it. And modern hard-boiled fiction is all that and more.
Part of what hard-boiled is about is the adherence to a moral code in a world without any moral code or moral values at all. Hammett and Chandler wrote about it in the old days. However today, it can be a moral code as minimalist as that of Andrew Vachss’ Burke, or as twisted as one of James Ellroy’s cop heroes.
Today, more than ever, hard-boiled fiction is relevant fiction that has meaning and stands for something, unlike the broader spectrum of literature, and most other mass-market entertainment. Modern authentic hard-boiled material (not Chandler clones or blood and guts retro-pulp), seriously examines crime or social issues, often taking us to places and depths we’d rather not be taken into at all. The world is a cruel place, but for the hard-boiled hero (and the writer and the reader by extension), it’s far crueler than anyone can ever imagine. And that’s part of the real story most people who do not read hard-boiled fiction do not want to face. Escape is, after all, so much more pleasant. And comforting. And easy. It can be so . . . cozy. And all the answers are laid out for you at the end. What could be nicer? Well, folks, that ain’t the way it is with authentic hard-boiled material. Oh, you might get a tidy answer at the end of the story, but if you do, there’ll be little comfort in it, I can assure you.
Hard-boiled fiction is not just about private eyes either. Even in the past, some of the best hard-boiled writers; W.R. Burnett (The Asphalt Jungle), and James M. Cain (Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice), were certainly not writing private eye fiction. They were writing hard, cold truth. The way it was back then, the way they saw it every day of their lives. Dashiell Hammett did the same thing as a Pinkerton, he took that life he’d lived and molded it into his Continental Op stories, later on into Sam Spade and the stuff that dreams are made of. But the core truth and attitude is always there in Hammett’s work. And it is no less true today than when his work was first published over 80 years ago.
Today the hard-boiled tradition comes on strong, in some ways even bolder than ever. Today there are serious issues and debates in hard-boiled work that you don’t see any place else. And certainly not at this level of detail and intensity.
Hard-boiled deals with crime, naturally. But it goes deep down into the black heart of crime. The corruption crime can bring into a person’s life, or into our society. The pain and decay it spawns on so many levels. The effect on the criminal and the victim. The reasons for it all.
Authentic hard-boiled fiction is also about real people trying to live their lives, to make it in the day-to-day and getting smashed down inch by inch, lower and lower. But they still hang in there. They refuse to go down for the count. They’re not giving up a damn thing, because they’ve had to fight like hell every day of their life for what they’ve got—and they’ll fight like hell every day of their life to keep it. And I’m not talking materialism here, folks. Not at all. I’m talking pride, honor, dignity, respect, the truth—going out of your way to help a friend, or going out of your way to fuck the enemy—days of blood and rage, a gut full of hurt—stand-up people in a sit-down shut-up world! That’s hard-boiled, to me.
I think that attitude comes through loud and clear in each of these 23 stories—my best and wildest hard crime and noir tales—collected together for the first time in book form. They are violent, maybe even brutal. In some cases the characters even revel in that violence. However, the point of view is always with the victim, or the character who is getting back at the thief, the murderer, the rapist or the child molester—that criminal who did you dirty in the first place. Revenge, pure, but not always so simple.
Some of these stories were previously published in book anthologies or magazines as far back as the early 1990s, or as recently as last year. Five stories are original to this book and have never been published before, while four others originally appeared only in online publications with this being their first-ever publication in print.
Some of these stories contain three of my favorite hard-boiled heroes. Vic Powers, is an ex-cop thrown off the force for being “unstable” and he appears in contemporary crime stories (so far with one novel, Blood in Brooklyn and one short story collection Dirty Dogs). Griff & Fats, are two retro-pulp tough-guy coppers whose stories take place in the early 1960s in the fictionalized Bay City (with one novel so far, Hellbent on Homicide). Joe Dillon, is a reluctant warrior who fights the evil he sees perpetuated by modern day religion. He is a work in progress.
Along with the other heroes, or fools, who are the main protagonists in the rest of these stories, these crime tales are replete with wicked femme fatales, crooked grifters, crazy punks, vile con men, vengeful vigilantes, evil child abusers, plus the usual array of killers, thieves and worse. The broad spectrum of crime in many manifestations. In other stories, for instance “Teeth” and “Vortex”, crime straddles the thin line between bloody violence and madness. In some stories, a really bad guy or gal gets a well-deserved comeuppance. Wicked people, getting theirs, wickedly. You may even cheer a bit at their demise, maybe even as much as I cheered as I wrote it.
I want to take a moment to also thank Gavin L. O’Keefe, and Fender Tucker at Ramble House for having the guts to put out such a politically incorrect crime collection and to master artist, Joseph Cali, well known in Japan for his fine art and design who created the fun pulp-flavored original painting especially for the cover of this book.
I hope you enjoy the stories in Ultra-Boiled. They’re not for the faint of heart, they’re not even “nice” stories, but they are some of the best crime fiction I’ve ever written and they are definitely full of heart and . . . hard-boiled attitude!
Brooklyn, New York
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