Fast Charlie by Victor Gischler

3 Mins read
Fast Charlie by Victor Gischler front cover with Pierce Brosnan

Originally published in 2001 as Gun Monkeys, Victor Gischler’s Edgar-shortlisted debut has been reissued as Fast Charlie by Hard Case Crime. It ties in with the film adaptation made in 2023, which uses Fast Charlie as its title and features Pierce Brosnan in the lead role alongside Morena Baccarin and James Caan, in his final picture. The film was well received in the US, so let’s see what the source material has to offer.

Charlie Swift works for Stan, an ageing Florida crime boss, and they go way back. When Charlie left the army and turned to the dark side, Stan was the one who put real money in his pocket. All for doing something he excels at – killing people. 

As we join him Charlie has a dilemma, he’s got a headless corpse in the boot of his rental car. Rollo Kramer was skimming from Beggar Johnson, the Miami capo, counterpart to Stan who runs Orlando. As Rollo was dumb enough to flee to Orlando when things got too hot in Miami, Stan was happy to lend his hitman for a fee. 

Charlie is usually efficient and clean but the job goes badly wrong when he agrees to take Blade Sanchez along for the ride. Blade talks Charlie into letting him do the hit and instead of a simple double tap to the head Blade goes for an exploding package. Job done but there’s a bonus for a positive ID on the victim, who is now unidentifiable. Stan suggests they get Kramer’s young wife to identify the body, with the help of a distinctive tattoo, that will hopefully satisfy Rollo. 

The widow, Marcie, is up for this. She’s fallen out of love anyway, but naturally this doesn’t go smoothly either. She, Charlie and Blade end up being in it together and suffice to say this will come back to bite them all. By the way, Marcie is a taxidermist and an artist, so watch out for the polar bear!

Charlie settles back into the daily routine thinking his problems have gone away, then Stan takes him aside. He’s a bit cryptic but something is going down and he wants Charlie to be ready in case it goes pear shaped. Meanwhile, another job had drawn the Feds into the game – inevitably all hell breaks loose. Charlie’s crew are taken out and Stan goes missing.

He could walk away but for Charlie this is about his crew so he mounts a one-man campaign to find the truth and doesn’t care who he has to take down to get answers – not Beggar, not the law. Charlie is also in possession of information that everyone else wants. The hunter is also the hunted. This is cat and mouse with a vengeance.

Charlie is an amoral character with his own twisted sense of justice. His desire to protect the survivors humanises him and given his low life enemies we’re on his side. Charlie has never been up against it like this and he finally has something personal to protect – his new love, Marcie. Of course, the bad guys bring it on and bodies drop across the state. This may put some readers off. There is a relentless ramping up of the action, one scrape to the next. It’s not for deep thinking, it’s vengeance and street war.

Sure, it follows the tropes, but two things make this more than just a bullet-fest. First, the slow reveal of angles, alliances and betrayals that constantly reset the narrative for us. Second, Gischler has style, fast and hard with gritty dialogue and well sketched characters. It’s in the best tradition of the pulps of the 40s and 50s but more modern in the way the absurdity and violence of this grim crew of misfits and monsters is portrayed.

It’s not rocket science but it’s smart, sassy and entertaining and stands up after 20 years against the modern ultra pacy pulp thriller. Maybe it could have been more layered but it gave us what we want from a shoot-’em-up thriller – a fun afternoon’s reading. A satisfying pulp and another gem from Hard Case Crime.

See our review of Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane’s Dig Two Graves.

Hard Case Crime 

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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