Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips (Hard Case Crime #2)

Fade to Blonde book Cover A Poor Effort – 2 Stars

This is the second in the Hard Case Crime series. Each installment is a throwback to pulp crime fiction and feature bad behavior, cigarettes and at least one woman with loose morals. It is not a series in the traditional sense and books are written by a wide array of authors and are taken from the past and present. The series spoils the reader by featuring a Lawrence Block novel as the first installment and I should not have expected the same quality in each novel. This is the only book I have read by Max Phillips and will likely be the last.

Plot Outline

Bachelor, loaner and part-time roofer Ray Corso is approached by a mysterious and sultry Blonde with a job offer. The blonde bombshell goes by the name of Rebecca. She tell a story of mistakes and missteps. Needing money, she starred in a couple of adult films. This was not something she wanted to do, so she escaped the clutches of the evil film producer. Upon leaving, the producer threatened to burn her face and Rebecca need someone to attack the producer before he attacks her. The story follows Ray through seedy bars, a drug house for the wealthy and connects him with the mob. There are plenty of lies and no one is whom they seem and it all wraps up with violence.

My Take

If you are expecting a gritty and atmospheric novel, you will be disappointed. It certainly had the potential to be an interesting tale but the plot suffered from a severe case of ADD. Was this a mob tale, a murderer for hire tale or a PI tale? The author seemed unclear and left me scratching my head. The fact is that most of the many directions the novel took were interesting. The problem was that the author could not stick with one. Had he focused on one or two of these varying plot points, the novel would have been better on the whole. It was a short novel at around 220 pages. All these plots changes would have been acceptable in an 800 page novel but loses the reader in a short one. All that said, it did win a Shamus Award for best PI Paperback Original. For what its worth, someone liked it enough to give it an award.

The preferred method of writing was staccato, machinegun speech. There were so many short sentences the book began to feel like a long running knock-knock joke. While it was interesting at first, it quickly became tiresome.

My final issue was that in between the many plot changes, there was…nothing. Nothing happened. There was conversation and meandering but it took the story nowhere. Read any of my reviews, I have a bias for meandering stories so long as the scenery is enjoyable. Not the case here.


The book wasn’t horrible but it was not enjoyable. I only read it to the end because it was so short. It may be that this is a spot on rendition of old pulp crime fiction and that I simply do appreciate the artistry. Try it out yourself and maybe you will feel differently.

Can it Stand Alone

Yes. The books in this series are not connected. You can read it or skip it without fear of missing anything.

Content Advisories

It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.

Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest

Sex 3

The cover is rather misleading. The idea of sex and a early 1950’s porn industry is in the background but rarely broached. There is a sex scene that is moderately graphic and footage from one of the films is discovered but it is only mildly graphic.

Language 2.5

The language usage is average and consistent with the time period.

Violence 3

There is scheming and conniving as well as few murders. Most of the murders are not graphic. There is violence toward a woman in the story that some readers may find unsettling. There is a set of murders that are moderately graphic.

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Tim Written by:

Tim is a lawyer, sports fan, parent, husband and book lover. He runs his own legal practice and is the founder of The Literary Lawyer book blog and a contributing writer for baseballbabble.com. Tim loves to share his love of reading by providing reviews to entertain as well as provide information to help you make an informed reading decision.