CIS: My classics by Joe Hefferon

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Joe Hefferon is a New Jersey writer turning what he knows about real detective work after serving 25 years on the force into noir-inspired crime fiction. We reviewed his novel The Last Meridian here, and in November his new book, Countdown to Osaka, hits the shelves. It’s going to feature a yakuza enforcer called Koi who’s on the hunt for a French gunrunner, and his books tend to feature strong women. Here are some of the classics that have helped make Joe’s crime fiction tick…

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Genius. I’ve read the book twice and seen the movie three times, or more. I confess I saw the movie first but certainly enjoyed the book even more. It was called vile in its day but seems almost mild compared with novels written in recent decades. The characters are mostly self-interested louts, willing to do anything or kill anyone to achieve their desires. Philip Marlowe is the only decent person in the story and quickly became the laconic, leathery, private eye we’ve come to crave. Chandler remains in my top tier of classic crime writers. (See our article on this novel here.)
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52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard
Although Chandler is a writer I aspire to be, reading Leonard gave me the confidence to think I could be a crime writer. He opened my eyes to another way of expressing the stories I have in me. Leonard said the 1970s (the book came out in 1974) were a period when he felt the self-assurance to add comedy to his writing. The characters, according to Leonard, are funny because they’re serious about what they’re saying, despite their incompetence. The humour in 52 Pickup is dark, lacerating in the way it opens you up to the truth about Leonard’s characters.
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Cop Hater by Ed McBain
In the TV show The Office a character who claims he’s a fan of hardboiled detectives says, “I’ll punch you in the mush, see?” That’s Ed McBain in Cop Haters and other works. McBain, worked alongside NY city cops until he felt he knew what it was like to be one, then set out creating the fictional metropolis and the 87th Precinct in which this series takes place. As a former cop, I can tell you he nailed it; the demeanor, the lingo, the conversations, the street urchins and attitudes. If you like gritty cop stories, Cop Hater is the place to start.
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The Hunter by Richard Stark
The Hunter was my intro to the methodically brutal character, Parker. That the focus is on the bad guy and not the cops intrigued me. The pacing is relentless. Parker keeps coming even when he’s killing time with a bottle of whiskey. He’s a slow-moving locomotive, never quite done hurting people. Violence is a requirement for Parker to arrive where he needs to be. Though there are hints that he might regret some of his actions, those feelings aren’t strong enough to stop him. Whether you’ve done Parker wrong or you are, by happenstance, in his way, you’ll be smashed. Stark’s style is lean and essential. It’s efficient but effective and entertaining.
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The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy
I can’t discuss crime novels without mentioning Ellroy and The Big Nowhere is my favourite of his LA Quartet. The book is LA noir at its most visceral, whether because of the unrelenting brutality or the characters stamped in stereotype, at any moment a reader could recoil. Some critics scolded Ellroy for relegating minority characters to criminal roles or having others make derogatory comments about homosexuals. Others saw the patois as backdrop to the terse reality of the world Ellroy created. The story focuses on three very different and complicated cops but I felt I’d known them all, and lived their tragedy.
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