Reviewer: Nickolas Cook
Thanks to the modern overabundance of high tech tools, writing an exciting hard boiled detective narrative like those penned by such authors as Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald or Ross MacDonald, has these days become quite a challenge. I know from experience the sheer time and effort a truly conscientious writer must put into such a labor, if he intends his narrative to read realistic as possible. If one tries to meet the modern definition of contemporary, then one must take into account the advent of technology which makes the old style of hard boiled detectives somewhat anachronistic. After all, with the mass of easily accessible technology devoted to spying and keeping watch over our property, person and fellowman, for what we can only pray are altruistic ends, the sort of old world gumshoe private dicks the above authors once wrote about so convincingly are really out of their league against such seemingly omniscient observation and modern information gathering tools of the trade. The challenge is, of course, to still hand over the goods expected by the sort of hard boiled fiction fan who will most likely read White's "Haftmann's Rules", while still keeping at least one foot in the reality of such a world where these tools do exist, and make such a significant impact on our everyday lives.
With "Haftmann's Rules", Robert White manages not only to meet such a challenge, but also creates a believable "hard boiled sensibility" bubble within this spy tech happy reality in which we live, and still manages to convey the old world literary stylings of such hard boiled fiction masters as Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler. In fact, White goes about this by finding the connective tissue which is most important to the reader, and that is through his main character, Thomas Haftmann. Haftmann has more to do with those beloved fictional anti-hero characters. White's portrayal of his bad-good guy Thomas Haftmann is the true challenge--and one well met. Haftmann is a man who is living in an existential hell, one of moralistic and ethical ambiguities that he has perhaps purposely cultivated in his life to allow himself the leeway needed to live like a devil while also looking down an angel's nose at those who are more inherently immoral and even "evil" in a biblical sense, as opposed to the apathetic post modern definition of an old world concept.
But as much as I enjoyed getting to know Haftmann, and trying to navigate my way through his moral and ethical gray areas, to perhaps find something to love about such an almost easy to despise character, (the same way I felt about Spillane's Mike Hammer) I found the story was even more engrossing.
White certainly seems to understand what makes for a great read. He peppers his tale with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, but he also gives us some meaty text into which his readers may also sink their literary teeth. His characters, both good and bad, have enough of their own moral striations to become more than mere cardboard cutouts to fill the pages, or to hand Haftmann a handy 'MacGuffin' by which to get him from narrative's point A to point B, during his journey in "Haftmann's Rules". At times, I even found myself wondering if White was intentionally mirroring other such dark and frightening journeys as written by the likes of Milton and Bunyon.
Needless to say, I more than enjoyed my first read from this exciting new author in hard boiled fiction; it will most certainly not be my last. If White can continue to deliver the weighty moralistic and ethical questions found in "Haftmann's Rules", then we can expect some neo-classic hard boiled noir fiction to come.
Here's to hoping we get more of Haftmann's world soon.