Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Very Good Long-Lost Novel from the Master, Lawrence Block

This is the first crime novel ever written by Lawrence Block, the creator of Matthew Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, Keller, and others, and one of the most prolific writers of his generation. Block wrote the book sometime around 1960, sold it to a publisher, and then never saw or heard of it again. It was ultimately published years later with a different title and under a different name, and the publisher didn't even send the author a copy. Block only vaguely remembered the book among all the others he was churning out at that point, but fifty years later the book surfaced again and Block recognized it as his long-lost creation. The folks at Hard Case Crime have now published the book with the original title and with Block restored as the real author.

It's a very good example of the sort of pulp novel that was popular back in the 1950s and '60s. A Connecticut executive named Don Barshter accidentally kills his wife in an argument. Rather than turning himself in, he goes on the run to Buffalo, New York, and reinvents himself as a mobster named Nate Crowley. 

This sort of thing was much easier to do in 1960 than it would be today, and Nate Crowley is a very different kind of man than Don Barshter. He works his way into the local crime scene and finds himself a woman. Naturally, there will be complications and before long, Nate Crowley could find himself in nearly as much trouble as the late Mr. Barshter.

This book is not the equal of most of Block's later work, but only because much of that later work is so exceptional. When he wrote Sinner Man, Block was a very young author, still honing his chops. Clearly, though, he was already as good as many of his much older contemporaries, and he would only get better as the years wore on. This book will appeal to anyone who enjoys early pulp fiction and is a must read for Mr. Block's legion of fans.

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