Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Casinos, Motels, Gators: Stories - Ben Boulden

I really like Ben Boulden’s writing. His prose is as terse and tough and hardboiled as any you’ll find these days. He’s just released CASINOS, MOTELS, GATORS, a collection of four stories that originally appeared in various anthologies and an on-line magazine, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

The first three stories feature narrator/protagonist Jimmy Ford, a former FBI agent who messed up his life somehow. The details remain mostly a mystery to the reader, although Boulden alludes to a few things in one of the stories, but it was bad enough that Ford winds up working as a security consultant/troubleshooter/fixer for a shady character who owns a casino in a town on the border between Utah and Nevada. Boulden does a fine job depicting this stark, hardscrabble location, by the way.

In “121”, a casino employee is murdered, and Ford’s investigation leads to a surprising twist. “No Chips, No Bonus” is about a casino robbery that also leads to murder. In “Junkyard”, a casino employee’s granddaughter is kidnapped, and Ford sets out to rescue her. All these stories are well-plotted, fast-paced, and have plenty of gritty action and surprises. Ford is a sympathetic but not really all that likable protagonist. I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him.

I’d previously referred to “121” as a MANHUNT story for the 21st Century. Having reread it and read the other two Jimmy Ford stories, I’d say that not only would the series have worked in MANHUNT, it would have been right at home in the late Seventies/early Eighties issues of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. With some adjustment to the trappings, they could have even been BLACK MASK stories in the early Thirties. Boulden’s writing has definite echoes of Paul Cain, Raoul Whitfield, and Frederick Nebel.

The fourth and final story, “Asia Divine”, is a non-series yarn about a prostitute’s murder and the police detective investigating it. This one also has a twist ending and is the most noirish of the four stories in the book. It’s also superbly written, although really bleak, too. Of course, there’s a pretty thick thread of bleakness that runs through all these stories, although Boulden leavens it with a few little rays of hope here and there.

CASINOS, MOTELS, GATORS is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It's available in print and e-book editions from Amazon. If you’re a fan of hardboiled fiction, I give it a very high recommendation. I don’t throw those Cain, Whitfield, and Nebel comparisons around lightly, you know.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding review, I very much enjoyed reading it.

Patrick Murtha said...

I purchased the Kindle edition immediately upon reading the review. Book bloggers matter!

Ben Boulden said...

I'm so glad / relieved you liked Casinos, Motels, Gators, James. Thanks for the wonderful review!

Thanks, Patrick, for picking up the Kindle edition. I hope you like it!