TOO HOT TO HOLD opens with a classic Gold Medal set-up: A beautiful blonde with a package full of Syndicate money. A protagonist with a crappy job and a worse home life with his sullen wife and hot-pantsed teenage stepdaughter. A noirish twist of fate that brings the blonde and the guy living a life of quiet desperation together . . .
Ah, but then they don't actually meet even though they're inextricably and dangerously connected, and that's just the first of the ol' switcheroos that Day Keene throws into the plot of this fast-paced novel. Sure, the protagonist makes a decision that leads to trouble, and you may think you know what's going to happen from there, but you'd be surprised by the way everything plays out. I certainly was.
As always, Day Keene's work is consistently entertaining. His books may lack some of the raw, sweaty passion that you'll find in the novels of Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, and Charles Williams, but I think he was the best pure plotter in the Gold Medal stable. Nobody was ever better at taking the familiar elements of the noir novel and mixing them together to make something that at least seems fresh and new, whether it really is or not. He was a master of pacing as well, and TOO HOT TO HOLD is a prime example of that as he constantly keeps the story moving from character to character and incident to incident. If real life had allowed me to, I'm sure I would have read this book in one sitting.
Luckily, TOO HOT TO HOLD is included in the latest Day Keene collection from Stark House, along with the novels DEAD DOLLS DON'T TALK and HUNT THE KILLER (both of which I'll be reading soon, I hope). Making this volume even more of a bargain is the fascinating introduction by David Laurence Wilson, which as usual is worth the price of the book by itself. This Stark House triple volume is available now.
If you're burned out on long books, a novel like TOO HOT TO HOLD is the perfect medicine. Keene gives you an intriguing plot, believable characters, and some hardboiled action, all in not much more than 40,000 words. I loved every bit of it. Highly recommended.