Fifty-to-One Review
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To celebrate the publication of the 50th Hard Case Crime novel, publisher and co-founder Charles Ardai re-imagines the company’s history for his latest novel, Fifty-to-One. In this delightfully seedy pulp adventure, Hard Case Crime was founded 50 years (not 50 books) ago by shady businessman Charley Borden, publisher of both pulp fiction and smut, as well as purveyor of club-ready song-and-dance girls.

When one of Borden’s girls—sweet-and-innocent young dancer Patricia “Trixie” Heverstadt—gets a job in a club owned by notorious mobster Sal Nicolazzo, Borden sees it as the perfect opportunity to publish the best-selling first-hand account of a mobster’s life of crime. Promising to pay a pretty penny for the story, Borden tells Trixie to keep her ears open—to cozy up to one of Sal’s henchmen, if necessary. But Trixie soon finds that things are pretty hush-hush at the club—so the budding writer concocts her own fictional tell-all.

Unfortunately for Trixie—and her publisher—the made-up author of the fictional tell-all confesses to a robbery that actually happened. Now Nicolazzo’s after his stolen money and the cops are looking for answers—and poor, sweet Trixie finds herself caught in the middle.

Fifty-to-One is more than just an action-packed pulp-fiction thrill ride. It’s also a deftly constructed puzzle—a book written in fifty chapters, with each chapter sharing its title with the corresponding Hard Case Crime novel (for example, the first chapter is named after the first book, Grifter’s Game). It’s a clever—and challenging—concept. And, admittedly, some fit better than others. But Ardai does an excellent job of carefully thinking through the plot to match the story to the chapter titles.

Though the book’s mystery is far from mysterious—and you’ll most likely know whodunit right from the beginning—the thrilling action and suspense will keep you flying through the pages at breakneck speeds. There’s danger around every corner for Trixie and her friends as they travel through the pulpiest of surroundings—from shady nightclubs and back-alley bars to grimy boarding houses and underground boxing rings. The settings are every bit as dark and gritty as the story itself—making Fifty-to-One a classic-feeling pulp fiction caper about what happens when a seedy pulp novel actually comes to life.

Ardai’s Fifty-to-One makes a fitting tribute—complete with cameos by a couple of Hard Case’s authors. It’s wonderfully seedy and packed with action and suspense—and the clever concept makes it all the more fun. Don’t miss it.

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