Friday, June 03, 2011

The Gutter and the Grave -- Ed McBain

A long time ago I read a book called I'm Cannon -- For Hire. It was a Gold Medal edition by "Curt Cannon," who was also the novel's main character. Cannon, as you probably know, was a pen name used by Evan Hunter.

Now Hard Case Crime has reissued the novel under what I suppose is Hunter's original title, and the main character's name has been changed to Matt Cordell, who (if memory serves, and it rarely does) was the name of the character in a series of short stories that appeared in Manhunt. (I'm sure someone will correct me if I have the facts wrong.) Some of these stories were reprinted in a Gold Medal book called I Like 'em Tough by Curt Cannon, with the main character's name again being Curt Cannon.

At any rate, The Gutter and the Grave is a highly entertaining novel. You have to believe that Lawrence Block must have read it or the short stories because, like Matthew Scudder, Cordell/Cannon is a former p.i. who has no license now nad spends his time drinking. He can, however, be talked into "doing a favor for a friend." The favor sounds simple enough, but it leads to murder in short order, and then it becomes a lot more complicated. Hunter writes a good bit about musicians in the course of the book, and he seems to have particularly enjoyed it. Some of the "hip" talk will seem a little dated to you whippersnappers, but I remember it well. And when it comes to driving a story a long, McBain is hard to beat. He had the narrative gift. Pick this one up and see what you think.


Gerard Saylor said...

I read this when it came out. The things I most remember are the extended scenes with jamming jazz musicians and how race did not matter among the music fans.

Charles Ardai said...

You got it all right, Bill. When I contacted Evan about doing this book, he agreed on the condition that we let him change the title from I'M CANNON--FOR HIRE. I said okay (of course), but asked him why. His answer: "Because he's not Cannon, and he's not for hire." (Cordell was indeed the character's name originally. I suspect Gold Medal leaned on him to change it, choosing the monicker "Curt Cannon" because of the vague similarities to "Mike Hammer.")

Anonymous said...

I read the two "Curt Cannon" books 30 years ago and still remember them fondly.


Todd Mason said...

Whereas I read some of the Curt Cannon short stories, not knowing they were McBain, and didn't much care for them (see recent comment on IF issue with "Malice in Wonderland"). Beyond a certain artificiality, I can't quite put my finger on what rubs me so much the wrong way in his fiction...well, that, and most of the McBain I've read depends on someone doing something egregiously stupid to get the plot in motion...not just everyday stupid, but out of the way self-destructive or similarly gravely stupid. Easier to believe in life than in art, and hard to believe in life. Lousy deal, though, to have a Mike Hammer ripoff name foisted on both character and writer's byline.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Hunter, anyway.