Working for the Man (Hardman #7)
by Ralph Dennis
Publisher – Popular Library
Rating – 6.5/10
Summary – Ralph Dennis’ Hardman is back in Working for The Man. Someone is trying to extort money from The Man (the head of Atlanta’s underworld). Hardman and his best friend Hump Evans try to find out who is behind the plan. Working for the Man is enjoyable, fast-paced fiction.
Review – Back in the early-1970s an obscure Atlanta writer named Ralph Dennis churned out twelve novels featuring Jim Hardman, a disgraced Atlanta cop turned “unlicensed private investigator.” The novels aren’t fine literature, but they are a lot of fun. Over the holidays I decided to read the seventh entry in the series, Working for the Man.
Who is the Man?
In the Hardman series, The Man is an ex-pimp, who controls Atlanta’s black underworld. The Man frequently interacts with Hardman and Hardman’s friend, Hump Evans. Evans is a black former football player who has hit the skids and often works with Hardman on various shady “jobs.”
At the beginning of Hardman #7, The Man tells Hardman that one of Hardman’s old buddies, an ex-boxer turned gambler named Ronny Gellin has been tortured and murdered. It turns out that back in the 1950s, Gellin helped Hardman avoid getting “taken” by some card cheats. Moreoever, at the time of Gellin’s death, he was helping keep The Man’s books. The people who murdered Gellin decide to blackmail The Man using the ledgers that they took from Gellin.
The above paragraphs are about all that one needs to know about the plot. Dennis’ plots are good enough to keep you interested in how the story ends. But the real fun of the Hardman books is the journey, not the destination. Dennis gives readers a nice tour of Atlanta’s 1970s-era gutters, with references to real places. It’s a nice portrait of a vanished world.
The novels also have some other nice “hooks” to keep the pages turning. Hardman’s relationship with Hump is a good “buddy” story (and it helps to remember that the “black best friend” was not yet a cliche when Dennis wrote these novels). Hardman also has a girlfriend named Marcy who helps steer him away from his worst vices. Another recurring character is Hardman’s former colleague on the Atlanta Police Department, Art Maloney, who tries to keep Hardman out of trouble with the police. All three characters are prominent in Working for the Man.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Dennis actually was a good writer. Hardman is something of a gourmet and Dennis paints detailed portraits of Jim’s food and drink. Also, Dennis had a talent for making natural settings come alive through vivid descriptions. Consider this from the beginning of Working for the Man –
What had been a slow winter rain turned in to an ice storm when the temperature dropped after dark. The trees became coated with sheets of ice and when the wind blew through the limbs they creaked, and now and then there was a popping explosion when a tree split somewhere off in the distance. A couple of times during the night I awakened to a blue-red flash on the skyline that meant that a transformer had gone up. (page 5).
While I’m obviously a fan of the Hardman novels, I have to acknowledge that there are drawbacks. Dennis wrote them in a hurry, publishing the first seven novels in the series in 1974 (which makes Working for the Man, the last of the seven 1974 novels to appear). At times, Dennis’ haste is obvious. The actions scenes in Working for the Man can be uninspired and difficult to follow. Also, there is a point in the novel where The Man agrees to make a payment to the extortionists. I don’t want to include a spoiler, but a halfway-alert reader will recognize it makes no sense for The Man to agree to pay the money.
With the end of Working for the Man, I’ve now read seventh of the twelve Hardman novels. It’s a little sad to think that I don’t have many left to enjoy.
The Hardman books are what my high school English teacher used to call “literary junk food.” Clearly, she didn’t mean that as a compliment. But like all good junk food, the Hardman books are very enjoyable. (Dennis’ novel Deadman’s Game, which features an assassin named Kane, is also good). Working for the Man is typical of the series – fairly well-written popular fiction that won’t disappoint those looking for a diversion.