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Hard Freeze    by Dan Simmons order for
Hard Freeze
by Dan Simmons
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Dan Simmons displays his amazing talent writing in various genres from quiet, gripping horror such as Carrion Comfort to lyrical, involved science fiction (his Hyperion series) and complicated well-paced thrillers like Darwin's Blade. In Hard Freeze, book two in the Joe Kurtz private investigator series, he jumps genres once again to produce a marvelously gritty, hard-boiled, accelerating, no-holds-barred page-turning read. A nice assortment of quirky characters (most especially lead protagonist Joe Kurtz, whose mind-set and actions sometimes border on sociopathic) add to a slam-bang mix that only comes along on rare occasions and that any die hard mystery/pulp-fiction fan should not miss.

The first paragraph reels readers right into Kurtz's most recent dilemma - he's being tailed by relentless killers. This doesn't surprise him; he's cultivated plenty of enemies over the years, and, as he speeds through the streets of Buffalo trying to elude them, he mulls over who the assassins might be: the two cops who hate his guts (they believe he's responsible for the death of a fellow officer) and have sworn to either kill him or send him back to Attica even if they have to fabricate evidence to do it; a local Buffalo mob boss; 'Little Skag' Farino, who rules his domain from prison and who's regularly sent squads of hit men after Kurtz for what he knows about Skag's operation; or Angelina Farino, Skag's gorgeous and brilliant sister. She might want Kurtz dead too (she holds him responsible for the deaths of her father and sister in a bloody mob showdown as played out in book one of this series Hard Case) but being a lot smarter that her brother, she figures that between herself and what Kurtz knows about Skag's operations, he's just the man to help her take over the local family business.

As if he doesn't already have enough on his plate eluding an assortment of bloodthirsty goons, Kurtz is approached by a well known concert pianist whose daughter was murdered decades before. It was assumed the killer died in a murder-suicide-fire. However, John Wellington Frears now knows otherwise - he's seen the man who murdered his child large as life in a local airport. Now he wants Joe Kurtz to track him down and expose him. Initially Kurtz refuses, but when the killer ends up having ties to the local police department and to possibly dozens of other unsolved murders, the PI has no choice.

Kurtz also makes room in his busy time table to keep an eye on the daughter of his murdered ex-partner (and lover) Samantha Fielding. Sam was the reason he ended up in Attica in the first place, and made bitter enemies of the local mob. They had ordered her killed when she got too close to cracking a case and Kurtz single-mindedly avenged her death by eliminating those responsible. Sam's daughter (and very likely his) was adopted by Donald Lee Rafferty, Sam's ex-husband. Donnie doesn't harbor an ounce of fatherly concern for the girl - he only wanted to get his hands on Sam's insurance money. Joe Kurtz knows his current situation and environment isn't one that's stable or safe enough for a young girl, but he makes it his mission to keep an eye on Rachel - and Donnie - even if he can only do so from the shadows.

In Hard Freeze Simmons not only juggles numerous plot threads with apparent ease, but he keeps the story surging ahead at a relentless pace and with a masterful and brilliant hand, weaving everything together very nicely by the book's violent and action-packed ending. He also leaves things wide open for what will surely become a much anticipated book three of this fabulous new series.

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