Adam Jordan is a post-WWII journalist who just lost his press gig and now writes for pulps, like "Real Detective." Trying to make the transition, he finds his last "legitimate" story -- about a Miss America pageant hopeful found strangled to death on an Atlantic City beach -- has set its hook deep, and Jordan can't stop digging at the edges. What begins as investigative research aimed at his next paycheck quickly gives way to personal obsession over the truth as it becomes clear that powerful forces are working overtime to cover up the murdered cover girl. And if Jordan doesn't stop scratching at the itch, someone may just scratch him out … permanently.
Strangely, for a story emulating the pulps of the period in which it's set, False Negative has that rare quality of ringing true, especially when it comes to its true crime writer protagonist. Which makes sense, given that its author was once a crime reporter and received an Edgar nomination for his first novel, Floater, in 1986. He somehow captures both the addictive energy and deep-rooted cynicism of 1950s crime reporting, of the lying, bribing, and gentle blackmailing of cops and civilians alike just to get the scoop ... or worse, the photos.
As the latest title in the Hard Case Crime line-up (#107), which is home to many of my favorite authors -- like Christa Faust, Cornell Woolrich, Allan Guthrie, David Goodis, and Donald Westlake -- False Negative also boasts an appropriately lurid cover by my favorite cover artist, Glen Orbik. This one's a must-have for fans of well-written by spicy crime fiction.