3 The Hard Way
By Gary Phillips
Down & Out Books
First before digging into this book’s trio of excellent pulp yarns, we want to tip our fedora to Down & Out Books. A fairly new publishing house, the quality of their recent titles has been excellent and that bodes well for all new pulp readers. In fact, the three novellas you’ll encounter in this volume were only available digitally until now; just another reason for us devoted book lovers should be grateful to this new outfit. Here’s hoping they are with us for many years to come.
Okay, so on to the review. Gary Phillips is regarded as one of the finest new pulp authors in the game today and his reputation is well earned. A prolific scribe, he has a passion for creating unique heroes with a recognizable pedigree going back to the classic pulps of the 30s and 40s. In this book we get to meet three of the newest starting Malcolm Cavanaugh Bleekston; a sophisticated conman with the nickname McBleak. Sauve and debonair, he follows in the footsteps of such notable crime figures as Parker and Raffles with just a smidgen of the Saint in there somewhere. In this offering called “The Extractors,” McBleak sets his sights on a greedy developer and plots an elaborate and dangerous scam to fleece the crooked financier. The con is meticulously planned out and with the help of some loyal pals, McBleak risks life and limb to come out on top.
This is followed by “Ten Seconds to Death,” in which we meet the Essex Man, Luke Warfield. He is a former secret agent turned philanthropist who uses his agency to help people in need, support his community and bring justice to those who can’t afford it in a legal system corrupt to the bone. If he sounds a bit like Bruce Wayne/Batman, trust us, that’s no accident. Phillips loves his heroes brave and noble. In this introduction to Warfield and his team, we learn something of his black-ops background when he begins to investigate the murder of his stepfather. It appears an old colleague from that shadowy world has gone rogue and unless Essex can stop him, he will rain down death and destruction on Los Angeles. This one moves like an Indy 500 speedster, giving us readers little to do by flip those pages and hold on tight.
Finally we get Phillips’ homage to the super pulp icons ala Doc Savage and the Avenger with Ned Noc Brenner, an extreme sports junkie who is recruited by a mysterious organization known as the Vigilance Initiative. Under the direction of a genius inventor named Hiram Templesmith, Noc and two other agents are sent to foil the plot of a super criminal known as Prospero about to sell a flying-tank to whoever will bid the highest for this weapon of doom. In true pulp fashion, Noc’s new pals also have their own unique skills. Kolburn is a human chameleon who can change his appearance via millions of nano-robots in his skin cells while the lovely Navarro has subtle by powerful psychic that allow her to sense the veracity of an opponent. Together, the three efficiently set out to spoil Prospero’s scheme and obtain the anti-gravity machine before it falls into evil hands.
“3 The Hard Way,” is such an awesome volume as it stands. But to sweeten the pot even more, Phillips has added a brand new Essex Man short to welcome readers to the worlds of his amazing imagination. In a time when we are seeing more and more wonderful new pulp fiction entering the literary world, Gary Phillips is far out front leading the pack. It would do you well to start reading him now rather than play catch up later.