Hard Case Crime—a U.S. imprint specializing in paperback reissues of classic hard-boiled mysteries and thrillers, as well as new works in the same category—got its start in 2004, co-founded by former Internet company exec Charles Ardai and author Max Phillips. Over the next six years, it turned out almost one book per month, from writers as distinguished as Stephen King and Donald E. Westlake, and as “forgotten” as Steve Fisher, Day Keene and Gil Brewer. 

Read last week’s Rap Sheet about crime-fiction picks for fall.

But then in August 2010, Dorchester Publishing, which produced and distributed the Hard Case line, announced it would cease turning out traditional print volumes and instead make its titles available “in digital format and print-on-demand only.” This left Hard Case without a home. At least for a while. It wasn’t until December of last year that news spread about Hard Case signing a new distribution deal with UK-based Titan Publishing. And only this month is the imprint being relaunched.

I took this opportunity to ask Ardai about Hard Case’s plans for the future.

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A year ago, when Dorchester decided to cut Hard Case loose, many readers worried that it would simply disappear. Did you share those fears?

No. Too many people came out in support of Hard Case Crime for me to worry about it going down when Dorchester did. I got a very nice note from Stephen King saying, “Charles? Hard Case must not die.” When you hear that, you know you’ll keep it going somehow. And the fact is that when we started talking to other publishers about picking the line up, we met with seven and got five offers. In 20 years of working in the book-publishing business, I’ve never seen anything like it.

getting off The first new book you have scheduled for this fall is Getting Off by Lawrence Block, which you’ve described as “the single dirtiest book to be published in America in the last 40 years.” Isn’t Getting Off a rather odd choice with which to relaunch your imprint?

Not odd at all! Our very first title, HCC-001, was Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block. When the time came to choose an author to write the first book for our new incarnation—HCC-101—Lawrence Block was the natural choice, and I’m thrilled that he shared our excitement about his doing it.

As for the type of book it is, yes, there’s a lot of sex in the book. Larry prefers to call it “sexy” rather than “dirty”; I say “dirty” affectionately, of course, but make no mistake, it’s very much a crime novel. It even has some elements of a detective novel, although there’s no detective in it—you’ll see what I mean when you read it. It’s a Hard Case Crime novel through and through, even if it has a bit more sex in it than our norm.

After Hard Case’s yearlong hiatus, does the brand need to be resold, even to its previous readers?

I think brands always need to resell themselves—every book you publish either reinforces or dissipates your brand, and it’s the cumulative effect of the lot of them that either gives you a loyal following or fails to do so. We’re fortunate to have built up a very loyal following, and they’ve stuck with us over the past year of silence. It’s a little like James Bond fans who somehow manage to stay fans during the year or two, or three, between movies. In our case, it helps that we published so many titles before going dark, that a lot of our fans were able to use the past year just to catch up on ones they’d missed!

But yes, I think we do need to do a bit of work to remind people of who we are and to let them know we’re back. And hopefully to attract some people who might never have tried us before.

choke hold When the Dorchester link collapsed, you delayed release of two previously scheduled novels: Choke Hold, by Christa Faust, and Quarry’s Ex, by Max Allan Collins. Both of those, along with The CosummataCollins’ completion of a thriller by Mickey Spillane, his long-awaited sequel to The Delta Factor (1967)are now on deck for September and October. How do these books help establish the way readers look at Hard Case in the future?

Those are three books that walk the fine line between familiarity on one hand and novelty on the other—which ultimately is what Hard Case Crime is all about, one part revival and one part invention.

Quarry’s Ex is the newest adventure of Max Allan Collins’ popular hit man character, Quarry, who previously appeared in three other Hard Case Crime titles: The Last Quarry [2006], The First Quarry [2008] and Quarry in the Middle [2009]. Choke Hold offers the second appearance of Angel Dare, the former porn star turned vigilante who starred in Faust’s Edgar Award-nominated Money Shot [2008]. And The Consummata finally, after 44 years, gives readers a second tale of Mickey Spillane’s character Morgan the Raider, about whom the New York Times wrote, “Morgan might prove to be Spillane’s best creation.”

In each case, we’re giving readers more of something they’ve loved before—but in each case we’re also giving them a brand-new story, full of twists and surprises, and one you don’t have to have read any of the earlier books to enjoy. Something old, something new…it’s not just for weddings anymore.

What books do you most look forward to adding to the Hard Case line?

I love that we’re publishing our first original novel by Lawrence Block, who is my favorite living crime writer; before that, we’d published reprints of his early work, which was also a great pleasure, but publishing a Block original is something very special to me. I love that (thanks to Max Allan Collins) we found a never-before-published manuscript by Donald E. Westlake, The Comedy Is Finished [Feb. 2012]. I love that we turned up a lost crime novel by science fiction Grand Master Robert Silverberg, Blood on the Mink [Apr. 2012].

But you know what? In some ways the upcoming title that makes my pulse race the fastest is a first novel we’re going to be publishing next [August] called The Twenty Year Death. It’s 700 pages long, and it’s a virtuoso performance, truly outstanding. It earns every one of those 700 pages. The author’s name is Ariel S. Winter, and mark my words, you’ll be hearing a lot more about this fellow in years to come.

J. Kingston Pierce is both the editor of The Rap Sheet and the senior editor of January Magazine.