Thursday, October 1, 2015

Another Great Read from the Master of Crime Fiction

Life doesn't get a whole lot better than a day when you have a brand new book from Lawrence Block to read fresh for the first time, and The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes proves that Block is still at the top of his game. With this book, Block updates the steamy pulp novels of yesteryear and demonstrates that, even in the age of computers, cell phones and the Internet, there's still a lot of life that can be wrung out of the genre.

At the heart of the book is Doak Miller, a retired cop from New York City who moves to a small town in Florida where his pension dollars will stretch a bit farther than in NYC. Once settled, he takes the occasional job as a private investigator to supplement the pension. He befriends the local sheriff and even does an occasional job for the county. A divorced man, Doak also cultivates the local ladies and engages in some very hot sex. Early in his career, Block wrote "adult" novels under various pen names and in writing the sex scenes, he channels his younger self and goes beyond the limits he or his editors set for Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr.

As the book opens, Doak agrees to take an undercover job for the sheriff, William Radburn. A woman named Lisa Otterbein is looking to hire a hit man to kill her very wealthy husband, and the lowlife that she first approached in a bar has reported her to the sheriff. (Obviously, the woman should have called Dot and hired Keller, but that would have been another story all together.)

The sheriff wants Doak to play the part of the hired killer (Frank from Jersey) and record Lisa attempting to hire him. Once they have the poor woman on tape, she will be convicted of soliciting murder and sent to prison. 

Doak agrees, but he doesn't count on the fact that Lisa will turn out to be the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. He's not about to entrap her and cleverly warns her away from the scheme. Lisa shows her gratitude in a particularly nice way, and before long we're headed into James M. Cain country.

Lisa convinces Doak that she's madly in love with him and Doak, of course, is totally smitten with her. He's soon concocting plans to eliminate Lisa's husband, but will he have any better luck than Walter Neff in Double Indemnity or Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice?

As always, Block has created interesting and believable characters and then inserted them into a steamy and complex plot that's enormously entertaining. Doak Miller knows his crime fiction and like any other literate fan of the genre, he also knows how these schemes inevitably end up. But like the aforementioned Messrs. Neff and Chambers, the poor guy just can't walk away. One can only hope that Lawrence Block is not yet ready to walk away either from what has already been a very long and distinguished career. Every time you read one of his last few books, you can only desperately hope that there will yet be at least one more.

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