Author Charles Ardai On Adapting Shane Black’s ‘The Nice Guys’

By Sean Tuohy

Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys” was released this past weekend to rave reviews and much love from critics and filmgoers alike. The noir film with the beating heart of a classic detective story is amazing. There is no other way to describe it.

It’s easy to spot the influences from classic detective novelists like Ross McDonald or Raymond Chandler. Because of its roots in classic hardboiled detective stories, it only makes sense that the novelization was written by the one and only Charles Ardai and published by Hard Case Crime.

With its sexy cover, The Nice Guys captures the soul of the film while also bringing even more excitement and life to these wonderfully designed characters. Ardai, our first podcast guest, graciously sat down and answer a few questions about his latest project.

He sure is a nice guy!

Sean Tuohy: Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys” and Hard Case Crime seem like perfect bedfellows. How did this project come to be?

Charles Ardai: I first got to know Shane when he agreed to write an introduction to a book called Murder Is My Business by Brett Halliday—the same author whose books partly inspired the plot of his last great crime movie, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Turns out he’s as big a fan of our books as I am of his movies, and ever since then I’ve been trying to think of a way for us to work together. When I heard on the grapevine that he wanted there to be a novel to go with “The Nice Guys,” I immediately shot him an email saying, “I’ve never written a novelization before and I’ll probably never write one again, but I’ve got to write this thing. And we’ve got to publish it in Hard Case Crime.” Happily, he loved the idea.

ST: What was the greatest challenge you faced when transforming “The Nice Guys” from a script to a novel?

CA: The deadline. I work fast, I pride myself on it, but there’s fast and then there’s supersonic. By the time Shane and I first spoke about his ideas for the book, there were only two months left to get a finished manuscript. That meant I had to wake up every morning at 2:30 a.m. and pound at the keyboard until 6:30 a.m. when my daughter woke up and needed to be fed and taken to school. It was brutal. I basically didn’t sleep for a month. But I wouldn’t change a hair of it. I’ve always idolized the old-time pulp writers who had to pound away at their Underwoods at midnight in order to make the rent, and this is the closest I’ve ever come to that experience. 

ST: Unlike most private detective stories—which are told from one point of view—“The Nice Guys” switches between two points of view of two very different main characters. As a novelist, was this juggling act of two main character points of view thrilling or challenging?

CA: That was something Shane and I talked about early on—should we have the sort of first-person narration people generally associate with hardboiled private eye stories, and if so, how, given that there are two leads? In the end I went with third-person narration but so-called “close” third, where you wander into each character’s point of view in a sort of fluid way when it helps to tell the story. That also worked here because it fit with the movie’s comic voice and loose, swinging ‘70s rhythms. I’m very pleased with how it came out. I think Chapter 36, where the narration flows in and out of the minds not only of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s characters but also Gosling’s daughter’s, is one of the best things I’ve ever written, and does a nice job of conveying some of the melancholy flavor that the movie conveys with techniques a novelist doesn’t have recourse to: soundtrack, cinematography, etc.

ST: “The Nice Guys” bounces between heavy action and brooding mystery, deep character study and witty humor. As a writer how did you manage the ever-changing tone?

CA: You know, most good crime novels—and I think all great ones—contain a wide range of tones. There are few books sadder than Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and few books funnier. I think that bittersweet combination is part of what makes hardboiled fiction so satisfying. Look at a writer like Lawrence Block, who can go from hilarious to heartbreaking within a single page. Now, I’m not saying I did it as well as Larry—those are big shoes to fill. But he was one of the writers I had in mind when I sat down at the keyboard each day. Shane is another one—his writing travels from hilarious to poignant and back again, and having his terrific script to work from (several drafts, actually; he gave me a lot of material) definitely helped me find the right balance.

ST: Be honest, would you hire “The Nice Guys” for a case, and do you think they would survive?

CA: Hell, no! I wouldn’t hire them. They’re barely competent. Nominally they solve the case in the movie (and the novel), but a lot of people die along the way, and without spoiling anything I can tell you the outcome isn’t exactly what they or their clients would have hoped for. That said, do I think they would survive if I did hire them? Sure. I think they can survive anything. And if you see some of what they survive in the movie, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me. I might not survive, but I think they would.

To learn more about Charles Ardai, visit Hard Case Crime’s official website or follow him on Twitter @CharlesArdai. Also listen to our podcast interviews with the author and publisher (Episode 70 and Episode 3).

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive