The One-Dollar Ripoff (Hardman #9)
by Ralph Dennis
Publisher – Popular Library
Rating – 8.5/10
Summary – In the ninth installment in Ralph Dennis’ twelve-book Hardman series, Hardman’s friend Hump is cheated when he wins a bet on a Monday Night Football game. The scam leads Hardman and Hump into something much bigger and more evil. This is one of the best novels in this unfairly-forgotten series.
Review – From 1974 to 1977 Ralph Dennis penned twelve novels featuring an “unlicensed private investigator” in Atlanta named Jim Hardman. Though the books in the series are yellowing and forgotten at America’s thrift stores, they are well worth seeking out for some fun, hardboiled reading.
I bought all twelve novels online for about $40 and I’ve slowly been working my way through them. For The One-Dollar Ripoff my expectations were high, as Bill Pronzini’s massive review of mystery fiction, 1001 Midnights, mentioned that book was one of the best in the Hardman series. I wasn’t disappointed; The One-Dollar Ripoff has all of the virtues of the other books in the Hardman series (lots of action in gritty Atlanta settings) along with a good plot. (Plots can be “thin” in some of the other Hardman novels).
The One-Dollar Ripoff throws the reader a curve. The story starts with what seems to be a simple scam – Hardman’s friend Hump Evans wins a bet on a Monday Night Football game but cannot collect on it. Hardman agrees to help Hump track down the man responsible, and they find out that the man is involved with some evil people.
True, Dennis’ plot isn’t particularly original, nor is it entirely believable. But readers searching for fine literature are in the wrong place. What Dennis does accomplish will satisfy those who want an entertaining, gritty, action-packed read.
This is not to say that Dennis was a hack writer. In places, he shows a nice touch with prose. He even shows a bit of insight into “the human condition” for readers who pay attention. According to online sources, Dennis was an alcoholic. Consider then, this passage in which Hardman and Hump search skid row –
“It wasn’t a pleasant thought. That chance that, in a few years, we might be the ones waking with the dry, scratchy throats. The rest of the day would stretch out, measuring a hundred years, when we’d have to worry about getting enough wine to make it through the night. The begging and the lying and all of the sweat time that went with it” (p. 21).
As with all of the books in the Hardman series, The One-Dollar Ripoff takes the reader into a rough world. One respectable citizen checks on Hardman’s and Hump’s reputations and reports that “He said that you two have an old whore’s past and future. Nothing at all” (p. 65). That line says much about the tone of the Hardman series and the world it explores.
Though I recommend The One-Dollar Ripoff, the book has some “soft spots.” For instance, when Hardman is hired to work for a man named Temple (pp. 63-64), Dennis falls into the old trap of “telling, but not showing.” (In other words, rather than revealing the characters through their actions, Dennis simply tells the reader what to think of the characters). There is also a poorly-drawn scene at the end of the book in which Hardman confronts a wealthy man’s bodyguard. Both scenes could have been improved with minimal rewriting.
Closing Time –
Fans of ultra hardboiled fiction will enjoy the Hardman series. The books are a cut above most men’s adventure fiction. The One-Dollar Ripoff is one of the best in this neglected series.