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Fast One

Page history last edited by barry_ergang@... 12 years, 11 months ago


Cain -- Fast One -- cover

Cain, Paul -- Fast One (1933)


I can enthusiastically recommend Fast One to any reader who loves the hardboiled school—especially from the pulp era—but don't ask me for a detailed plot summary. That's next to impossible. Suffice it to say that a tough character named Gerry Kells, who is visiting L.A. from New York and who seems to know every major racket boss in southern California, is in the first chapter framed for a murder he didn't commit, and who spends the remainder of the book either dodging or deliberately confronting cops and hoods with words, fists, and firearms. Along the way he considers trying to take over L.A.'s rackets himself.


It's an aptly titled book because the story roars along at a hectic pace. (I disagree with Mike Grost's assessment that the book moves slowly. If anything, it moves too rapidly.) The pace is aided in no small measure by Cain's staccato prose style, which almost redefines "lean and mean." But the pace and the story's complexity are the book's undoing because there is no characterization for readers to relate to. Most of the players—including the principal female—are referred to only by their last names. The absence of character definition reduces them to mere names on the page. It's frequently an effort trying to recall from one chapter to another who's who and who's done what to whom.


Fast One has long been hailed as the ne plus ultra of hardboiled gangster tales by the likes of Bill Pronzini, E.R. Hagemann, and Raymond Chandler. David A. Bowman, in his introductory essay in the 1987 Black Lizard edition I have, writes: "Cain took the hardboiled style as far as anyone would want to. Fast One is the Antarctica of hardboiled writing. There is nowhere else to go." Forget about any insights into the human condition or any other sorts of profound meanings. Just buckle up and go along on the wild ride.


—Barry Ergang, December 2007

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