Joe Kurtz

Created by Dan Simmons

“On the day he was shot in the head, things were going strangely well for Joe Kurtz.”
Hard as Nails 

Got hard?

Buffalo, New York ex-con private eye JOE KURTZ is the protagonist of a trilogy of acid-etched noirish thrillers by writer Dan Simmons that, despite their bleak worldview, never skimp on two-fisted (and occasionally one-fisted) action.

When we first meet him, in Hardcase (2001), in one of the great flashback/prologues in detective fiction, Joe is a man on a mission, out to avenge the death of his partner/lover Samantha Fielding. He’s just out of prison, having already served twelve years in New York’s notorious Attica prison for killing Samantha’s murderer, but he’s still burning for vengeance. But Joe’s defiant stubborness to reclaim his life and career (even if he no longer has a P.I. licence), and his obsession with revenge and protecting his own has left him stranded in a world where no outside moral authority exists, and only his own brutalized, brittle sense of decency keeps him within any boundaries at all.

He’s barely out of the can when he’s back in the P.I. saddle, setting up a internet-based tracer of lost loves business in the basement of a porn shop, complete with Arlene, his exceedingly loyal, exceedingly hard-assed secretary from twelve years ago back working for him. But his first “real” client is the head of a disintegrating upstate New York mob whose son he befriended in prison.

Hard Freeze, the second book, is possibly even more bleak, set against the dark, bitter cold of a Buffalo winter. But both books come highly recommended, and the third, Hard As Nails, shows no signs of softening, the opening sentence hitting the ground running: “On the day he was shot in the head, things were going strangely well for Joe Kurtz…. ”

If this is cheese, it’s smart, hard cheese. Simmons’ too good a writer to let this series devolve into simplistic lunk-headed pulp. But then, prolific, chameleon-like Simmons has made a career of writing edgy, often disturbing (but never dumb) fiction in numerous genres, penning often ground-breaking (and award-winning) works in fantasy (Song of Kali), science fiction (Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion) and horror (Summer of Night, A Winter Haunting). Hell, he’s even done vampires! (Carrion Comfort). Lately he’s set his roving eyes on pulpy crime fiction and thrillers, with the Joe Kurtz books and Darwin’s Blade, featuring insurance investigator Dar Minor.


  • “With Hardcase, Simmons both pays homage to over-the-top pulp fiction and writes a remarkably good example of it.”
    Otto Penzler
  • “Comparisons between Dan Simmons’ Joe Kurtz and Donald Westlake‘s Parker were inevitable, especially with Simmons’ dedication of Hardcase reading “This book is for Richard Stark, who sometimes writes under the wussy pseudonym of Donald Westlake”
    But Kurtz’s latest outing, Hard As Nails, takes it a giant step further, with Joe commenting on his parentage: “My mother was a whore. I didn’t see much of her even before the orphanage. Once when she was drunk, she told me that she thought my old man was a thief, some guy with just one name and that not even his own. Not a second-story guy, but a real hardcase who would set up serious jobs with a bunch of other pros and then blow town forever. She said he and she were together for just a week in the late sixties.”
    — H. Kelly Levendorf
  • “In sum, a nice, dark, all-purpose thriller with some of the appeal of Mike Hammer, Parker or Burke, and all of the fun of Mac Bolan, Executioner.
    David Wright on Hard As Nails


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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