The Golden Girl & All (Hardman #3)
by Ralph Dennis
Rating – 8.5/10
Summary – The Golden Girl & All is one of the best books in this overlooked hardboiled series set in Atlanta. This book is a great introduction to the work of Ralph Dennis.
Review – Recently, the twelve novels in Ralph Dennis’ series have become my “go-to books” when I need some nice, unchallenging beach reading. The series is little known and features a disgraced ex-cop-turned-unlicensed-private-eye named Jim Hardman and his friend, black ex-NFL star Hump Evans. Though the set-up sounds cliched, Dennis’ books are all good, and some are terrific.
The Golden Girl & All is the third of the twelve Hardman novels, and the fifth novel that I’ve read in the series. I recently bought the entire set of Hardman novels for $40 online; eventually, I will get to the seven that I have yet to read.
The Missing Femme Fatale
The Golden Girl relies on a classic “missing woman” plot. Peggy Holt, a young mother, grabs her daughter from a Chapel Hill, North Carolina, daycare and flees to Atlanta. Peggy’s ex-husband hires Hardman to track her down. Predictably, the search leads Hardman into Atlanta’s underbelly.
The Hardman novels are very hardboiled. Hardman and Hump are cynics and one finds no moralizing in the novels. Golden Girl is bleaker than most of the Hardman novels, as it takes place in a run-down Atlanta during a cold January –
At night you couldn’t see much of the damage that the ice storm a week back had done. Crossing the old bridge at the west end of the park my headlights played across a tree that had been uprooted and had fallen against the embankment. … Down in its center Orme Park was pitch black in shadows. The outer edges were lit by the street lights and the overflow cast by porch lights (pp. 128-129).
According to online sources, Dennis suffered with a drinking problem. Alcohol is prominent in the Hardman novels and also contributes to their mood. Of why he accepted the Golden Girl case, Hardman says “Getting so I needed a job or I’d turn into an alcoholic”.
Hump replies, “At your age it’s a little late to worry about it. Now it’s a race between skid row and the grave” (p. 71).
A consistent weakness in the Hardman books is plotting. Dennis wrote in a hurry (publishing seven novels in 1974 alone); his quick drafting and the books’ short lengths sometimes detract from their plots. Though Golden Girl has many typos, its plot is pretty good.
In addition to the standard drugs, sex, and violence common to hard-boiled novels, Dennis adds some nice touches –
– in Chapter 10, Hardman and Hump attempt to track down the missing child by following a man through Atlanta. This is a terrific chase scene that vividly evokes the city. The chase covers a lot of ground, but Dennis’ explanation allows the reader to follow events.
– Dennis attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina and a small part of the novel takes place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These scenes provide a nice break from Atlanta and help sustain the reader’s interest.
– Golden Girl also has a strong, hardboiled finish. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll say that Dennis again makes the setting vivid
An underdeveloped thread in the novel is Hardman’s deteriorating relationship with his lover, Marcy. The problems reinforce the “hardboiled” mood. At one point, Hardman notes of the relationship “It was falling apart and the heavy sad blues were playing in my head” (p. 96)
The Golden Girl & All is of the strongest Hardman novels. The Hardman books have long been out of print, but they’re easy to find over the ‘net. Hardboiled fans who take the time to track down Golden Girl will not regret it.
NOTE – Previously, I’ve reviewed two Dennis novels on this site – Atlanta Deathwatch (Hardman #1) and Deadman’s Game, a novel that was supposed to be the start of a new series for Dennis featuring an ex-CIA assassin named Kane. Sadly, only one Kane novel made it in to print. Links to these two reviews follow –
Atlanta Deathwatch: Hardman #1