11 April 2007


Lawrence Block is an old-timer, like Donald E. Westlake. His 1961 novel Mona was re-packaged and released as Grifter's Game with the honor of being 001 in the Hard Case Crime catalog. Good choice. I had never read Mr. Block until this, but now I know why he has 2 more titles in the series (The Girl with the Long Green Heart 1965, HCC-014, and Lucky at Cards 1964, HCC-028). Like Westlake, he can write about criminals in a way that makes them sympathetic and likable without losing sight of their criminality. I suppose it appeals to our voyeuristic instincts--we want to go along for the ride with these guys, but not get tangled up. Block certainly makes it a fun ride with Joe, our grifter protagonist, and the femme fatale, Mona, that he hooks up with. One expects noir novels to be brisk and muscular, with smart dialog and a fast pace. Block delivers, but also gives us a fine character study. Criminals are human, too. The ending was a surprise, and cleverly done. It would not have worked without learning, via the first person account, our main man's motives. HCC-002 is a 2004 novel by Max Phillips called Fade to Blonde, and if the story is as spectacular as the cover painting by Gregory Manchess, it will be a hell of a lot of fun. And they say "don't judge a book by its cover." Phooey!

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