Hard Freeze is the follow-up to Hardcase, the first novel about former private investigator Joe Kurtz, who is just back on the streets after serving hard time in Attica for the vengeance-murders of some mob thugs.
Dan Simmons has crafted a taut and gritty novel set in the deep winter of Buffalo, New York. Hard Freeze proudly carries on the tradition of über-hard-boiled detective stories. Once again, Joe is having problems with the Farina Family, and also manages to get a psychotic serial killer on his tail. Simmons draws his characters with compassion and a keen eye for detail, and executes well on a tight plot laden with double-crosses, sociopathic mobsters, corrupt cops, and epic shoot-outs.
One of the nice things about the Kurtz character (even though, yes, the name is a bit much) is that Simmons writes him completely consistent in his behaviors and stances. Kurtz is emotionally frozen to the point of sociopathy, and thus is not the kind of person who would hesitate to pull the trigger when it suits his purposes. Which it often does.
Hard Freeze succeeds admirably as a bleak, modernized off-shoot of the Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson branch of noir. The weakness of the novel is that the odds are piled up so high against Kurtz that Simmons sometimes has a hard time getting him through without resorting to plot devices that come perilously close to Deus Ex Machina. But that is a minor quibble.
If you like your fiction boiled to diamond hardness, you’ll enjoy Hard Freeze.
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