First Class Noir: Death Comes Too Late by Charles Ardai

First Class Noir: Death Comes Too Late by Charles Ardai

Death Comes Too Late (Hard Case Crime,
March 12, 2024). Cover art by Paul Mann

Charles Ardai is the creator and the editor of the famous, successful Hard Case Crime series (featuring novels by the likes of Rex Stout, Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Earle Stanley Gardner, Cornell Woolrich, and Ray Bradbury, just to mention a few) now reaching its 20th Anniversary.

But Ardai is no minor author himself, as proved by the present volume, which collects twenty short stories (including some prize winning tales) previously appeared in various venues.

On the whole the book represents a very interesting and entertaining showcase of Ardai’s work. Among the various stories some are particularly worth mentioning.

“Home Front” is a tense, magnificently told piece revolving around a man with a dirty conscience ending up just where he should never have been.

“Nobody wins,” an engrossing, excellent whodunit, addresses the disappearance of a young woman, whose taste regarding potential husbands is certainly disreputable.

“Don’t Be Cruel” is yet another great crime story (in which even Elvis Presley plays a minor role) graced with a fantastic rhythm that holds the reader’s attention throughout.

“Mother of Pearl” is a delicate, perceptive and melancholy piece with a final surprise, while “The Corner Shop” is a nice supernatural tale with a strong moral side.

The compelling “Sleep! Sleep! Beauty Bright” blends voyeurism, greed and vengeance in a perfect mix.

The truly excellent “A Free Man” portrays a man in mid-life crisis leaving home and hitchhiking, who, although he faces murders, robberies and other indignities, decides that freedom is an invaluable achievement.

Highly recommended.

Mario Guslandi was born in Milan, Italy, where he currently lives. He became addicted to horror and supernatural fiction (too) many years ago, after accidentally reading a reprint anthology of stories by MR James, JS Le Fanu, Arthur Machen etc. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, he has contributed over the years to various genre websites such as Horrorworld, Hellnotes, The British Fantasy Society, The Agony Column and many more. His last review for us was The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Fifteen edited by Ellen Datlow.

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I almost always read SFF, but Hard Case Crime is such an awesome series.
From the vintage cover illustrations to the classic noir story-telling.
I wish other genres would follow Hard Case Crime’s formula.


Hard Case Crime, great books, very good comics too, i just finished Five Decembers from the HCC line and that book was absolutely incredible. highly recommended.

with that said, i picked this up on pre-order and am not sure when i will get to it, but i have liked Mr. Ardai before so i hope for good things. now that oi have moved over to a lot of audio book listening, i am very glad Hard Case Crime picks great narrators for their audio productions too. i am currently working my way through all the parker novels which are free to add to your library through audible but am thinking i will pause and listen to this if available. someday i will get back to listening to sci fi…. i swear hahaha

Thomas Parker

I’m a big Hard Case fan; I’ve probably got 100 or more of them. I will confess, though, to liking it better when they published more old Gold Medal writers (Gil Brewer, Day Keene, Wade Miller etc.) than when the imprint became the Max Allan Collins manuscript dump.

Walter Abrao

I probably have about as many Hard Case Crime books as you, Thomas. I also wish they didn’t throw so many Collins books into their publishing schedule, but I still love a lot of the stuff they put out.

If you haven’t checked out Stark House Press, you should. They reprint a bunch of classic crime authors and have also been putting out a number of volumes collecting the best stories from the classic crime magazine, Manhunt. I’ve been buying from them for years and highly recommend their books.

Thomas Parker

Oh, I have a lot of Stark House books, Walter, (volume one of the Manhunt anthology is on my nightstand as I type) and I’m always looking to add more, to say nothing of prowling Ebay, in search of actual Gold Medals. It’s a sickness, I tell you!

Walter Abrao

I have have to say I am similarly afflicted. Coincidentally, today I received the latest email newsletter from Stark House. And they have a new Day Keene trio up for order. I’ll of course be adding that to my ever growing Stark House collection.

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