Series editor Charles Ardai carved himself a nice piece of real estate by deciding to write Hard Case Crime’s fiftieth book. On the outside looking in, a lot of people might think this move was merely an ego trip. But that will change the instant they start turning pages in Fifty-to-One.
Ardai expertly hooks readers with the story of a small-town girl, Tricia, who comes to New York in the 1950s with stars in her eyes. Unexpectedly left to her own devices by her older sister, Tricia promptly gets swindled by a street con artist. Desperate, she tries to make the best of things and ends up getting hired on as a dance at a mob-run night club. Then she discovers that the guy that conned her is actually a small press publisher of crime and porn fiction who’s currently down on his luck.
Pressuring Charles Borden, Tricia finds herself drawn into the crime fiction trade by penning a best-selling “nonfiction” tell-all book about the night club. She describes a robbery that takes place in the club, giving away details that enable an actual robbery to take place after the book comes out. (This attention to detail was one of the things that affected the publishing world several times as writers strove for reality.)
Admittedly, some of the plot twists Ardai takes are self-serving, but they’re fun, and they allow him to stay on top of a tightly spun, multi-faceted plot that ultimately satisfies. Tricia, named Trixie at the night club, has the best and worst runs of luck, but they never fail to keep readers turning pages.
Fifty-to-One is simply the best kind of potboiler. Nothing, no character or situation, remains static for long. As in any good noir tale, loyalties and perspectives change with the wind. For the most part, it is Tricia against the world as she struggles to sort out the mystery of who truly stole the mobster’s money and bloody secrets.