Monday, February 01, 2016

Ard boiled crime from the 1950s

William Ard (1922-1960)  was almost a topic on the "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane" panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C., but the panelist, that knowledgeable Canadian Kevin Burton Smith, chose to discuss Norbert Davis instead.

But I sought Kevin's advice during an Ard-shopping expedition through the convention's book room, and I wound up with The Diary, one of Ard’s ten or so novels featuring the New York private investigator Timothy Dane (Ard wrote several other series in his his short life.) Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

1) Ard would make a perfect subject for “Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane,” which I first offered at Bouchercon 2014 and which spotlights lesser-known authors of the paperback-original and pulp eras. Ard is, indeed, little remembered, to judge by the paucity of references to him online and the apparent scant availability of his books. Little or none of his work is available in electronic versions, for example, where many lesser-known crime writers of the past have found new life.

2) He was fairly prolific in a short career, turning out about thirty novels though he died before his 39th birthday.

Kevin Burton Smith
3) I like Kevin's observation that Dane is "a pretty normal guy" compared to his fictional contemporaries Mike Hammer and Shell Scott. I love Kevin's remark that
"I find Ard's work far more enjoyable than that of Ross Macdonald in the same time period. Sure, Dane's cases tend to be a tad pulpier and melodramatic than Archer's, but at the same time, Dane's a far more compelling and down to earth character." 
4) The Diary's ending conforms to Kevin's assessment about Dane's cases compared to Archer's.  Ard built The Diary around themes familiar from Hammett and Chandler: political corruption, family secrets, and wild daughters.  But he knew how to build something unexpected out of familiar P.I. set-ups, such as the shamus in his office waiting for a client or the tough guys who confront the P.I. Several times near the novel's beginning, I'd think, "I know what will happen now," and I'd be wrong. After this happened two or three times, I figured this guy Ard's a pro who knows how to hold a reader's interest.

5) Dane also wrote crime series featuring characters named Lou Largo, Johnny Stevens, Barney Glines and Mike (later Danny) Fountain plus Westerns. I haven't read them, but thanks to The Diary, I may look for them.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Blogger Bill Crider said...

At one of the first Bouchercons I attended, Francis M. Nevins gave a talk on Ard, particularly a novel called HELL IS A CITY, which Mike made sound like one of the greatest crime novels ever written. Another guy (Richard Moore) and I rushed to the dealers' room immediately after the panel, and each of us bought a copy of the book (this was long, long ago, when the dealers' room was packed with people selling older paperbacks). Richard and I both had the same opinion of the book when we read it, and it was just about the opposite of Mike's. I've never read another Ard book, though I have a lot of them. Maybe it's time to give him another try.

February 01, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe the quality of Ard's work, like that of many prolific authors of paperback original writers, inconsistent in quality.

I can attest, based on The Diary that, at the very least, Ard had the chops to use familiar material in interesting ways.

And now I long for those days when Bouchercon book rooms had more dealers in old paperbacks than they do now.

February 01, 2016  
Blogger Eric Beetner said...

I like Ard quite a lot, especially his pen name Thomas Wills which are a bit more hard boiled and pulpy. I think he's as good as the big names.

February 01, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, and thanks for the comment on my blog. Seems to me that recommendations one trusts are especially important for authors who wrote lots, because the quality can vary (Charles Williams probably came closest among the Gold Medal-era writers I've read to producing something at least good every time out, though he was not as depraved as Harry Whittington or Gil Brewer)

February 01, 2016  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Thing with Ard is that he pumped out so much in his short career (his westerns are also highly rated by some), that his work was bound to be uneven.But at his best, he could be quite entertaining and often quite thoughtful, bringing an Everyman quality to a genre that too often offers a patronizing and/or condescending view of humanity; a trait that both Spillane and Macdonald often fell prey to.

Fans of Thomas Dewey, Robert Martin and William Campbell Gault (all great candidates for a future panel) might like Ard. They all share a certain, um, groundedness? that I find appealing.

February 02, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kevin, I guessed that might be the case. I was surprised when I found out how much Ard had written in such a short time. That the quality of his work should not have been uniformly high may surprise readers today, but is utterly in keeping with the publishing conditions of the time. Harry Whittington and Peter Rabe, to name just two of the best authors of paperback originals, occasionally produced work that was subpar or appears to have been written in great haste. That's why I think it's especially important to readers investigating writers of the period for the first time do some shopping around before deciding which books to read.

I've written about Gault, citing you a few times (, and I like what I've read. But I don't remember liking them a much as I liked The Diary. I have The Perfect Frame and .38 on the way.

February 02, 2016  

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