Hard as Nails is the third Joe Kurtz novel offered by Dan Simmons and, one thing for sure, this one is perfectly titled. Joe Kurtz is definitely “hard as nails.” In fact, I cannot imagine anyone being tougher than this guy. He’s shot in the head and left for dead very near the beginning of the novel, receives only minimal medical attention, and searches for his shooter while battling the mother of all headaches (a headache he loses only after being tasered to within an inch of his life) for almost all of the rest of the book.
Simmons packs so much action and so many characters into this 288-page crime thriller that the reader might be in danger of acquiring a headache of his own. Before Kurtz can even begin to search for the man who almost killed him and his parole officer, he is forced to deal with two New York mafia dons (no stereotypes here: one is gay and one is female) that want him to find out who is killing so many of their heroin dealers and their customers. The dons are willing to pay him if he is successful - but one of them plans to kill him if he fails.
Then there’s the Artful Dodger, a terribly scarred serial killer who has worn a Brooklyn Dodger baseball cap, 24-7, most of his life. This guy is good - and he’s after Joe Kurtz, too. Throw into the mix a Yemeni assassin that mistakenly believes he is working for the CIA, an evil Viet Nam era colonel that gets around pretty well despite being confined to a wheel chair, his Vietnamese partner, Kurtz’s policewoman girlfriend-of-sorts, another mysteriously powerful man manipulating much of the action, and numerous colorful characters from the Buffalo underbelly and you have the makings for non-stop, but confusing, action and plots.
It is all a bit much and what could have been a riveting crime thriller reads instead like a surrealistic take on the genre itself. Simmons has the characters and plots for two good thrillers here but they suffer from being crammed into one relatively short book in which there is little room to fully develop either the characters or the plots. This is one of those cases of “too much of a good thing” and that’s without even mentioning the bizarre climactic battle that ends the book. Perhaps Simmons purposely went over the top with this one but, if so, that’s a shame.
Rated at: 2.5