My favourite crime novels – No.18

A Fast One — Paul Cain’s A Fast One is, quite frankly, a novel that should be better known, more widely read, than it is. In fact, it’s rarely in print in the UK, which is a bloody dreadful state of affairs (although I think it is available at the moment, though I haven’t checked). Cain was a pseudonym for a novelist and screenwriter George Sims (who wrote his screenplays under the non-de-plume Peter Ruric). He wrote very briefly for Black Mask under Cap Shaw (between 1932 and 1936) and left the magazine when Shaw was fired. A Fast One was years ahead of its time. It is completely unsentimental and has a heartlessness to it that makes Dashiell Hammett look like a soppy chick-lit author in comparison. A Fast One is very violent and the action rarely flags, and the moments of calm are usually brief respites before yet another storm of bullets. It also has a terseness to its prose that makes me think of Ellroy’s LA Confidential at times, with Cain paring back description and sentences to their barest essentials. He also reminds me of George V Higgins in that most of the explanation of the story or what a character is feeling is driven by the dialogue. It has a pace to it that even now, in this fast-moving 140 character age, will pin you to your chair with the sheer G-force of its narrative drive. In fact, it’s so bloody good that even Raymond Chandler, who seemed to hate most of his contemporaries, said of Cain’s masterpiece: “Some kind of high point in the ultra hard-boiled style…”

Buy it before it goes out of print again and cherish it; I promise you that you’ll re-read it, and often. Try his short collection Seven Slayers too while you are at it…

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4 thoughts on “My favourite crime novels – No.18

    • It’s always interesting to surmise about these things. Cain, based on the little he left us, was a stormingly good writer. I always hope that, much like the several recently discovered Hammett short stories, some long hidden novel or short story collection surfaces and we have another Cain classic to read. One can always dream…

  1. It really is an amazing novel, but the strange thing is it took me two attempts to really appreciate it. First time, I was a bit overwhelmed with how complex it seemed… maybe I was tired, I dunno. The second time was the charm. Knocked me on my ass. I have the omnibus edition that includes Fast One and Seven Slayers, still available at Amazon.
    Thanks for posting that great review!

    • Actually, you aren’t the first person to say that it took more than one attempt to get into it. I read a blog post by somebody, possibly on Allan Guthrie’s website, who said the same thing. And the person who initially recommended it to me said it might take a couple of goes to ‘get it’. I think I was lucky, I’d just come off a James Ellroy (Underworld USA trilogy) and David Peace marathon (Red Riding quartet) so I was really ready for anything and got it first time around. But I think if I’d being reading something a bit more mainstream beforehand it might have taken a bit more effort to get it. Thanks for the comment, I just hope it gets people reading this great book. There are so many writers out there who deserve better than their current status of ‘widely unread’ – Cain, Crumley, Willeford, Ted Lewis etc. etc.

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