Blood for Breakfast (Dean Ballenger) Review
"Hardboiled" means different things to different folks in relation to crime fiction.
Sometimes the term is used interchangeably with words like “noir” and “violent,” though I usually think of hardboiled as meaning “cold-blooded” or “merciless,” especially with regards to the behavior of the protagonist.
David Goodis is a top favorite crime writer of mine, but I wouldn’t classify him as a hardboiled writer, since his novels are typically about wounded people crippled by their emotions or history or both. Even in those murky depths, there is humanity. Mickey Spillane is probably classified as a hardboiled writer by most people, but the book of his that I read (I, the Jury), I thought was jokey and far too focused on its nonsensical plot and boob similes to feel “hardboiled” rather than just farcical. The Woman Chaser (Willeford), The Postman Always Rings Twice (Cain), Pop 1280 (Thompson), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Higgins), and the Ed Race stories of Carroll John Daly are top-notch hardboiled works in my estimation.
Nastier, far less politically correct, and harder boiled than all of the aforementioned works is Blood for Breakfast, by Dean Ballenger, the first Gannon novel. The prose here is an aggressive and jargon-laden iteration of Carroll John Daly’s voice (whose style I prefer over his more famous contemporary, Raymond Chandler), and the savage events bring to mind Death Wish and Mad Max (the original) as realized by Richard Laymon and Sam Peckinpah. There is not a single wasted sentence in this well-crafted book, which drives mercilessly from violent confrontation to violent confrontation with sporadic sex breaks. This could get repetitive, but doesn’t, largely because of the hook of the catalytic event (a very ugly rape), the author’s creative jargon, and the continual plot turns. The end result is a relentless, focused and very brutal crime / men’s adventure tale that has a strong focus on class warfare.
Breakfast for Blood is a lyrical, odious, and playful book that is recommended to anybody who thinks that those three adjectives belong in the same sentence.