Review: The Nice Guys by Charles Ardai

Nice GuysSavvy readers know, of course: never buy the book based on the film. I know, I know; I can tear you tut-tutting, muttering I-Told-You-So’s. But here we are, I bought one, and the result is as you’d expect: a tad underwhelming. You need to understand, though: this is a novelization based on a Shane Black script – the guy who wrote Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 – which has been turned into the movie starring Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe, The Nice Guys. Not only that, the book is published by the reputable folks at Hard Case Crime – so I expected great things. Alas, what I got is very much a novel that feels like it’s missing a vital ingredient; that special something that would elevate it above other novels in the genre.

The Nice Guys is an unabashed buddy-cop action comedy. Holland March is the always-inebriated, always-buffoonish private eye with a busted nose. Jackson Healy is the tough guy, whose tough-as-nails attitude belies a softer underbelly. They’re like fire and ice, boasting completely divisive personalities that theoretically render any sort of partnership inoperable. But of course, circumstances throw them together in a hunt for a missing girl.

Ardai captures the feel of 1970’s Los Angeles to perfection – not at all a pleasant place to live, and in my mind, barely conceivable given what the city has become, and is today. And his prose is typically stark and hardboiled: this is a writer well-versed in the genre, who knows what its readers demand. Unfortunately, the plot is fairly cookie-cutter; but whereas the film can rely on standout performances by Crowe and Gosling to overcome its formulaic structure, Ardai’s adaptation can’t quite overcome these shortcomings. I get the feeling the success of The Nice Guys film will be down to the actors’ rhythm – and while Ardai nails their patter (it’s being plucked from the screenplay, after all) he can’t (through no fault of his own) capture their mannerisms. In other words, The Nice Guys novel is fine on paper, a serviceable whodunit, but isn’t much more than that.

Readers unfamiliar with Ardai’s work are doing themselves a slight disservice by beginning with The Nice Guys. Do yourself a favour and grab yourself a copy of the stellar Fifty-to-One to see what the guy can really do, on his own, without a predetermined blueprint.

ISBN: 9781785652578
ISBN-10: 1785652575
Format: Paperback (175mm x 106mm x mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Titan Books Ltd
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
Publish Date: 10-May-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom