Title: False Negative
Writer: Joseph Koenig
Artist: Glen Orbik
Publisher: Hard Case Crime
When it comes to pulp imprint Hard Case Crime, there are three things you can expect from them. A classic noir story, decent writing, and a sexy cover. Joseph Koenig’s False Negative fulfills these requirements…with a twist.
Even though False Negative is a mystery set in 1953, it certainly isn’t a Bogart detective piece. Rather, the main character, Adam Jordan, is a writer. This certainly isn’t the first mystery to feature a writer nor the last, but this writer is a journalist writing for Real Detective, a trashy magazine that gives all the juicy gossip on real murder cases (which may or may not have been based on the real Real Detective magazine).
In some ways, Real Detective serves False Negative the way Hush-Hush is to L.A. Confidential. It has the ability to transform the setting and change the times. No longer is this a cheery 1950s or even a noirish one where the detective occasionally saves the dame. This 1953 Atlantic City is a world where people get killed with ice picks, beautiful women are found in a morgue just as likely as they would be found in a beauty competition, and spouses are nothing like they are in The Honeymooners. Real Detective transforms the 50s into a much darker time, and anyone brave enough to edit for it is more than likely to be hunted down by a convict angry over his front page story.
However, Koenig also makes sure that the setting is grounded despite the eccentric killings and high body count. He has the ability to magically transport us to 1953 without succumbing to cheap “Hey look, it’s the 50s!” tricks. The references, from the Hudson Hornet to Jordan’s conversation with Louis Armstrong, are wisely placed throughout the story and never feel like they’re simply used out of nostalgia.
With that being said, don’t expect this to be a fast paced, action packed mystery. The pacing here can get pretty wonky. Sometimes the pacing is fast paced, such as the excellent scene when newly ex-convict Morris Wing pays a visit to Real Detective‘s editor Ed Pelfrey. Or even the non-action scenes such as Adam Jordan’s conversation with Louis Armstrong. Then there are moments when the pacing snails on through. Fortunately things start to get real interesting about a third of the way into the book, and at halfway the gears shift into a extremely suspenseful twist-and-turn mystery.
Fortunately, Joseph Koenig is a master of dialog, something I rarely credit a writer for being. Everyone speaks with wit, flare, and at the same time the dialog feels completely real. Each character has their own distinctive voice and the sharp, back and forth dialogs keep the book going even when the plot slows down.
Despite some odd pacing, False Negative marks the return of a writer who knows dialog, colorful yet real characters, and how to make an original premise. As with any well-written mystery, the killer isn’t known until the final fifth of the novel, and Koenig knows how to do a reveal without blurting it out. It’s an original snapshot of the 50s that is seen through the lens of nostalgia, noir, and an honest look at what was right and wrong.