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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Fast One

Paul Cain

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To purchase Fast One

Title: Fast One
Author: Paul Cain
Genre: Novel
Written: 1933
Length: 223 pages
Availability: Fast One - US
Fast One - UK
Fast One - Canada
À tombeau ouvert - France
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Fast One - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B : bleak and action-(over)packed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 29/10/1933 .
The Washington Post . 28/3/2012 Michael Dirda

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is in truth a ceaseless welter of bloodshed and frenzy, a sustained bedlam of killing and fiendishness, told in terse staccato style, turned loose by mobs of Los Angeles gangsters to seize control of every lawless racket that fattens upon the opulent Pacific Coast. (...) (T)here's no minute's let-up in the saturnalia of "black-and-blue passion, bloodlust, death""" - The New York Times Book Review

  • "The narrative’s point of view is nearly always external: People talk, actions are starkly described, no explanations are given, and we can only guess what Kells or other characters are thinking. The prose is similar to Hemingway’s, but even leaner." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Early on in Fast One protagonist Gerry Kells gets what sounds like a generous offer, but Kells shies away from it, explaining that he's sitting pretty for the moment, satisfied with life; in fact, he explains: "I don't want any part of anything". Like it or not, however, he gets sucked in to quite a few things over the course of this novel: the offers keep coming -- many so obvious that he immediately sees through them -- and he can't avoid getting wrapped up in some of them. And, when he's already mixed up in things, he figures he might as well try and turn them to his advantage (and profit) -- indeed, there are times he's positively gleeful about it: "Now watch things happen", he tells someone at one point, after he's just set some things in motion again.
       Fast One is not short of action. We're less than halfway through the book when Kells tallies up: "I've been mixed up in five shootings in the last thirty-two hours". He gets repeatedly knocked unconscious, shot at (and, more than once, actually shot), wet. At least there's always some strong alcohol at hand -- despite this still being Prohibition times, Kells moves in circles where those (and many other) laws don't apply so strictly.
       Kells has had some issues with the police -- it's one of the reasons he left New York for Los Angeles, as:

     "I happened to be too close to a couple front-page kills," Kells went on. "There was a lot of dumb sleuthing and a lot of dumb talk. It got so, finally, when the New York police couldn't figure out a shooting any other way, I was it."
       And he has to try to steer more or less clear of the cops here soon enough too, as he walks into a set-up meant to pin a murder on him; it won't be the only time that someone tries to set him up. Indeed, essentially, Fast One is a series of attempts to set up Kells, or at least have him take the fall for something, and Kells trying to twist the situation to his benefit: he's not above blackmail himself. As he notes wearily late in the game(s):
I've been double-crossed to death. I'm god-damned tired of it -- an' I need the dough.
       Kells has a few dependable buddies, and taxi drivers apparently can always be paid off to provide an alibi that will hold long enough for him to stay one step ahead of the police. There's also a dame, Granquist -- even as she seems to be playing rather too many sides herself.
       At the heart of it is a struggle for control of Los Angeles, by several power players who are making their moves. There's some potentially harmful (or useful, depending on which side you're on) information floating around, and considerable effort and money are applied to trying to see that it doesn't (or does) get out; among the attempts are extinguishing the whole daily run of a newspaper.
       Kells is free-spending, with a wad of cash that grows appreciably over the course of his (mis)adventures -- though he loses piles along the way. The plan then is for the really big haul, but the challenges are considerable; Kells really finds himself in terrible situations, and even when he gets clear of them, there's usually a body left behind -- and he looks good for being responsible. A lot of people want him out of the way, and do their best to see to that.
       There's some fun in how Kells just can't break free: he simply gets drawn into the action, regardless:
     "And ? ..."
     "And you're in."
     Kells said: "I'm out."
     Crotti leaned back again, studied the gray tip of his cigar. He smiled slowly. "I think you're in," he said.
       As one of the characters notes, late on: "There's a lot of water been under the bridge since I seen you this afternoon", as Fast One packs a whole lot of action into a very short time frame. Several times Kells has his train ticket out of town booked, but he can't catch it; it's not like he can't catch a break -- he keeps managing to, but they only manage to be half-breaks, the next confrontation already bearing down upon him.
       It ends with a car chase -- right out of a 1940s noir film, with a rousingly bleak finale as they speed down the road. That's where the title comes from:
     He glanced at the speedometer. "You'll have to do a little better. I think there's a fast one on our tail now."
     She said: "The curves ..."
     "I know, baby -- you're doing beautifully. Only a little faster." He smiled.
       You could say Fast One was written just for, or around, that exchange .....
       Definitely rough and tumble, Fast One isn't much interested in character development or talk. It's all about the action. There's socio-political critique, but at a basic level: Cain sees little more than corruption. Kells does a good turn for a deserving boxer who is supposed to throw a fight, but overall there's little room here for much personal redemption. On the other hand, pretty much everyone gets theirs: the carnage is extensive.
       It's a dark, dark world in Fast One -- as Cain emphasizes:
It was a little after six, full daylight, but the fog made it night.
       Much happens in the dark, much is difficult to see. And it's a tangle of a plot too -- though, honestly, the plot is mostly secondary, almost (a messy) one of convenience.
       Fast One doesn't quite live up to its reputation, but it has its qualities -- and certainly the feel of a black and white noir film (not surprising, given that Cain was more of a screenwriter). If not top-tier, it's still an interesting work of the period and genre, and holds up well enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 November 2021

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Fast One: Reviews: Paul Cain: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American screenwriter and author Paul Cain (actually: George C. Sims) lived 1902 to 1966.

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© 2021 the complete review

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