Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Book Review: Sinner Man

Posted by admin under book reviews

Book: Sinner Man

Author: Lawrence Block

ISBN: 9781785650017

Price: $9.95 (paperback) (also available in hardcover, e-book and audio)

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Synopsis: To escape punishment for a murder  he didn’t mean to commit, insurance man Don Barshter has to take on a new identity: Nathaniel Crowley, ferocious up-and-comer in the Buffalo, New York mob. But can he find safety in the skin of another man … a worse man … a sinner man?

My Rating: Four out of five stars

My Thoughts:  The story behind the novel is as interesting as the novel itself: this was the first crime novel Block wrote. It was published under a pseudonym and then forgotten for fifty years. The author conducted an extensive search for the book he vaguely remembered writing but not publishing, and now that it’s found Hard Case Crime has brought it out in a handsome hardcover as well as affordable paperback and ebook editions.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Block’s work, whether he’s writing hard-boiled crime / noir, as here or the more cozy mysteries featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr or anything in between. This book has everything the fans of Block’s noir work have come to expect: a lead character you want to like but can’t approve of; a female lead who is more than capable of holding her own despite, or perhaps because of, the men who use her; and dialogue that’s rich in patter and short on soliloquies.

Also as expected of Block when he’s written full-on noir like this: the book gets off to a hot, fast start (with the accidental murder the synopsis describes), slows down for some character building in the middle (as Barshter/Crowley becomes a part of the mob scene), then punches into high gear in the final pages with an intensity that really leaves you wondering who, if anyone, will come out of this thing alive.

I’ll be clear: Donald Barshter isn’t likeable even before he accidentally murders his wife and decides to go on the run rather than face justice. He’s even less likeable as he worms his way into a situation in which the reader knows, if not Don/Nate himself, that he’s in over his head. But that doesn’t stop you from wanting to know how it all turns out, wanting to know if in fact the law from back home will catch up to our “sinner man” or not. There were a few times throughout the book when I thought “Block could end it here, and I’d be satisfied.” But the author teases out the exact moment the other shoe will drop several times, and never in exactly the same way — building the suspense to a low rolling boil.

This is one of Block’s books that I could easily see Alfred Hitchcock adapting back in the day, if he’d been aware of the story. I pictured Tippi Hedren as Anne several times while reading.

And of course, because it’s a Hard Case Crime book, there’s a cover by Michael Koelsch that would be equally at home on Double Indemnity.

I’m definitely glad this lost early novel of Block’s was found and brought back into print. It’s a fun, suspenseful ride even if you don’t like the main character.

 

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Lawrence Block Returns

Posted by admin under authors, interviews

Lawrence Block,
the writer who never rests

I’m always happy to welcome previous interview subjects back to ramble on with me, but it’s always an honor when someone really well known agrees to be interviewed or re-interviewed. Today I get to welcome back the great Lawrence Block. You know him at the author of the Bernie Rhodenbarr and Matthew Scudder mysteries, among many others. He’s got a new short story collection out, so we chatted via email about it.

ANTHONY: Hard Case Crime just released the hardcover edition of CATCH AND RELEASE through special arrangement with Subterranean Press.  How closely did HCC publisher Charles Ardai work with you to choose the contents of the book?

LAWRENCE: Not at all, actually. I proposed the book to Bill Schafer, and made up a list of contents. Charles was good enough to offer his support and co-sponsorship for the book.

ANTHONY: The advertising copy for CATCH AND RELEASE says the contents are all short works that have not appeared in previous collections. When did the oldest story in the book last see print?

LAWRENCE: Well, remarkably enough, “Part of the Job” was published in Dapper in 1967—but I didn’t learn about it for over 40 years! The whole story of its publication and re-discovery is included with the story itself.

With that curious exception, these are all recent stories, all written in the present century. Thus they weren’t included in my omnibus collection, Enough Rope.

ANTHONY: What is the newest piece in the book?

LAWRENCE: Probably “See the Woman,” written a couple of years ago for the L.A. Noire anthology.

ANTHONY: CATCH AND RELEASE includes stories featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr and Matthew Scudder, correct?

LAWRENCE: Bernie’s here in “A Burglar’s-Eye View of Greed,” a newspaper op-ed piece I did for New York Newsday in 2002. Mark Lavendier published it as a deluxe limited-edition broadside, but it’s never appeared anywhere else. Matthew Scudder’s here twice, with “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen” and “One Last Night at Grogan’s.” These are the last two stories in the Scudder collection, The Night and the Music.

Catch and Release

ANTHONY: The volume also includes a play script. Was the script ever produced? (And if so, can you tell us a bit about the production?)

LAWRENCE: It’s the adaptation of a short story, and I believe it was performed a couple of times in Australia. And there have been a couple of Stateside nibbles, but so far nothing has happened—as is not unusual in the theater. It’s a natural for an amateur production—two characters, one set—so if anyone wants to stage it, all they have to do is get in touch.

ANTHONY: Are there any other Block (or pseudonymous) stories out there left to be collected, or have they finally all been un-earthed?

LAWRENCE: Well, only “Part of the Job” was unearthed; the others are all pretty recent. It would surprise me mightily if any more stories turned up from way back when, but the possibility’s hard to rule out.

ANTHONY: This is the second time Hard Case Crime has partnered with Subterranean to release a limited edition hardcover collection of yours. The STRANGE EMBRACE / 69 BARROW STREET collection is out of print now?

LAWRENCE: I believe so. The two individual titles are eVailable as eBooks from Open Road.

ANTHONY: Most of the Hard Case Crime line is mass market or trade paperback editions. Will we be seeing paperback releases for either of the Subterranean titles?

LAWRENCE: No plans that I know of for PB editions of Strange Embrace or 69 Barrow Street. As far as CATCH AND RELEASE is concerned, I retained both eBook and paperback rights, and have already self-published the eBook edition; it’s on sale even as we speak, and here’s a Kindle link.

I’ll also be bringing out a trade paperback edition any day now; it’s coming from CreateSpace, and will be widely available at Amazon and other online booksellers as well. Same format as the SubPress hardcover, same great cover art—and, since the hardcover’s essentially sold out on publication, a chance for readers to get the printed book at a reasonable price.

There an audiobook coming, too, and Dreamscape is already taking preorders in advance of a November release date. I did the narration, with an assistant from the beautiful and talented Lynne Wood Block; the play, “How Far,” needed two voices, one male, one female. And while she was at it she also voiced “Without a Body,” a brief monologue with a woman narrator.

ANTHONY: Since there’s a Scudder story in the new collection, I have to ask how filming for “A Walk Among The Tombstones” has progressed. Are they still filming, or are they in post-production now?

LAWRENCE: It’s in post-production, and I don’t know if they’ve set a release date, but I’m sure it’ll be sometime in the first half of 2014.

ANTHONY: You got to spend some time on the set. How was that?

LAWRENCE: It was fun. Liam Neeson was absolutely brilliant in the scenes I saw, and I think fans will love him as Scudder.

ANTHONY: I’m looking forward to that. Final question: What’s coming down the pike in the next few months?

LAWRENCE: A brand-new novel, the one I wrote this summer on a Holland America cruise. Don’t ask me where we went, as I barely got out of my cabin. I’m very excited about the book, and couldn’t bear to wait a year and a half for a traditional publisher to bring it out. So I’m publishing it myself, and we’ve settled on Christmas as  our release date.

Yeah, this Christmas. Christmas of 2013, which is like 90 days from now.

And, for the moment, that’s all I can tell you about it…

You can find more of Lawrence Block’s discussions of his writing on his website, his blog, his facebook and his goodreads discussion group. You can also follow him on Twitter as @LawrenceBlock.

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This week I get to interview one of my heroes. What can I say about Lawrence Block that hasn’t already been said elsewhere?

In his own words: “Lawrence Block’s novels range from the urban noir of Matthew Scudder (A Drop of the Hard Stuff) to the urbane effervescence of Bernie Rhodenbarr (The Burglar on the Prowl), while other characters include the globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner (Tanner on Ice) and the introspective assassin Keller (Hit and Run). He has published articles and short fiction in American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and The New York Times, and 84 of his short stories have been collected in Enough Rope. In 2004, he became executive story editor for the TV series TILT. Several of his novels have been filmed, though not terribly well. His newest bestsellers are Hit Parade, his third Keller novel (July 2006 in hardcover), and All the Flowers are Dying (April 2006 in paperback), the sixteenth Matthew Scudder novel. Larry is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and a past president of both MWA and the Private Eye Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times each and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and, most recently, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Life Achievement from the Crime Writers Association (UK). In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Germany, Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Spain, and, as if that were not enough, was presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. Larry and his wife Lynne are enthusiastic New Yorkers and relentless world travelers.”

Lawrence Block

ANTHONY: I have to admit I’ve been dragging my heels on this interview because I’ve been a bit daunted. Everyone has those folks they’re just star-struck around. I’d be equally as tongue-tied if I had the chance to interview John Glover (even after having met him twice), or Neil Gaiman, or Michael Emerson. So that got me to wondering: who gets Lawrence Block star-struck?

LAWRENCE: Hmmm. There must be someone, but I can’t come up with anyone offhand. I think age is a factor here, along with life experience. You reach a point where you don’t have heroes anymore, and no longer get star-struck. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it happens.

ANTHONY: Part of my problem was in trying to come up with questions you’ve never been asked before. And then I realized with a career like yours there probably aren’t any questions you’ve never been asked. I don’t have to be original, I just have to be interesting! Is there any single interview question you just dread hearing? And am I about to ask that question in this interview?

LAWRENCE: I don’t like hypothetical questions about my characters. “What would Bernie do if he met a werewolf?” That kind of crap. I also don’t like to be asked what I’m going to write next, because I don’t know.

ANTHONY: You’ve covered a lot of genres in your career: the light, comedic mysteries of Bernie Rhodenbarr, the more noir-ish Scudder books, Jill Emerson’s lesbian erotica and literary novels. I’d even go so far as to categorize Killing Castro as alternate history. Is there any genre you haven’t tried yet that you’d like to take a crack at?

LAWRENCE: No, I’m not really looking for new worlds to conquer—or to be conquered by.

ANTHONY: In Afterthoughts, you talk extensively about the reasons for using pen names and how your career has really moved beyond that now. Last month, you brought the “Jill Emerson” name back for Getting Off. Any chance that your other pseudonyms will make similar comebacks?

LAWRENCE: I wouldn’t think so. The others were just names of convenience. Jill has been something rather more than that, though I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. (And if this were one of those LB/JE dialogues, she wouldn’t let that last line pass without a comment.)

ANTHONY: Do you think there’s more of your early pseudonymous work still out there “undiscovered?”

LAWRENCE: Well, not undiscovered. In fact, people are forever discovering books that weren’t mine at all, convinced they’ve unearthed a previously unacknowledged pen name. Lots of luck.

But there’s old work I haven’t brought back yet, and probably will sooner or later, avarice and ego being such powerful motivators. In fact, two old books of mine, 69 Barrow Street (as Sheldon Lord) and Strange Embrace (as Ben Christopher) will be Hard Case Crime’s #69 sometime next year, produced in hard cover by Subterranean Press as a double volume, bound back to back or belly to belly, as you prefer.

ANTHONY: Getting Off is the first hardcover book from Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime imprint, and along with new work by Christa Faust and Max Allan Collins the book is the face of the HCC relaunch. Was there any extra pressure associated with that?

LAWRENCE: No, hardly that. Charles really got Getting Off, and his unqualified enthusiasm was a key factor in my decision to do the book with Hard Case. If there was pressure, it was temporal; I had to hurry it in order to be done in time for his fall list.

ANTHONY: What is it like working with Charles? How does the relationship differ when you’re re-issuing an old title versus publishing something completely new?

LAWRENCE: It’s a pure pleasure. I’ve had good luck with editors over the years, esp. in that the right editors have often been linked to just the right books. Joe Pittman edited the Burglar books at Dutton, and had such a feel for them that I wasn’t surprised when he went on to write London Frog. Many fine folks have edited the Scudder novels, and John Schoenfelder was a joy to work with on A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I worked particularly closely with Charles, and showed him work as I went along, which is something I never do; it would seem to indicate a high level of trust, and it was in this instance justified.

ANTHONY: Okay, last HCC question, I promise: If Charles ever decides to bring Gabriel Hunt back for another set of books, would you consider writing one? I’d enjoy seeing your take on Gabe’s womanizing, globe-trotting, modern Indiana Jones ways.

LAWRENCE: No, I don’t think so. I like the books but I don’t want to write one.

ANTHONY: You make it clear in Afterwords that you’re not really a fan of going back and rereading your early work to prepare it for re-issue. Between HCC and the e-books, there’s a lot of older material available again, but certainly not everything. Has there been, or will there be, any kind of organized “roll-out” of older titles? You’ve come close to refusing re-issues for a few titles, I know — are there any that are on the “absolutely not” list?

LAWRENCE: The only books I know I don’t want reissued are ones I didn’t write in the first place, books that were ghostwritten under a pen name of mine. With that exception, my feeling is a paraphrase of an old T-shirt: “Publish ’em all and let the readers sort ’em out.”

ANTHONY: Okay, time for some questions about craft. (Maybe I can learn a thing or two?) You’ve said that you rarely know what you’re going to write next, hence not being able to predict when a new Rhodenbarr or Scudder or Keller book is going to come out. Does that mean you’re also a “seat of your pants” writer once you’re into a project, or do you outline heavily before beginning?

LAWRENCE: Haven’t outlined in years. How much I know about a book before I begin is variable. Sometimes quite a bit, sometimes next to nothing. And I’ve always liked a maxim I’ve heard attributed to Theodore Sturgeon: “If the writer doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, he needn’t fear that the reader will know what’s going to happen next.”

ANTHONY: Have your writing habits changed over the years, other than changing writing locales?

LAWRENCE: Oh, probably, but I’m not sure how. Very early on I’d put on a stack of records, jazz or classical, and have music playing while I wrote. Now I cannot imagine why anyone would do something like that.

ANTHONY: Do you approach the creation of a short story differently than that of a novel?

LAWRENCE: I don’t think so.

ANTHONY: What’s your self-editing procedure? Do you edit as you write, or do you put out a full draft and then go back and tear it apart?

LAWRENCE: Well, I try to get it right the first time. And when I type THE END, I mean it.

ANTHONY: Okay, this one’s a little morbid, but I have to ask. Mickey Spillane left instructions for Max Allan Collins to complete his unfinished manuscripts. You once put the finishing touches on an incomplete Cornell Woolrich mystery. How do you feel about other authors completing any work you leave behind?

LAWRENCE: Well, if I keeled over fifteen words from the end of something, I wouldn’t mind if someone supplied the fifteen words. But I would hope that any old crap lurking in the corner of my office or some back room on my hard drive will be allowed to decompose.

And I certainly hope no one comes along and writes about any of my series characters. Just because readers would like to have another book about this one or that one is no reason to pander to them. Fuck ’em, I say.

I’m quite certain Bob Parker would find a continuation of his series by other hands perfectly appalling, but the man’s dead, and the living can almost always find ways to rationalize acts that bring them money.

OTOH, who cares what the dead want? Being dead means it’s no longer any of your business. Personally, if there’s no afterlife, what do I care? And if there is, am I really going to spend it giving a rat’s ass what happens to some moldering old books down here on this godforsaken planet? What kind of an afterlife would that be?

ANTHONY: Getting Off is out in hardcover. The Matt Scudder short story collection is available. What releases do we have to look forward to in the near future?

LAWRENCE: There’ll be a new novel from Mulholland sometime next year if I ever finish the damn thing. I told you about HCC #69. I’ve got 20+ sex-fact books by John Warren Wells waiting in the wings, and might bring them out as eBooks. I’ve got two years worth of my monthly column for Linns Stamp News, enough material for a book if I think anybody might want to read it. What else? Beats me.

ANTHONY: And my usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

LAWRENCE: I don’t know that I have a favorite. For many years I’ve acknowledged John O’Hara as my favorite author—so many years in fact, that I have to wonder if the statement’s still true. But all I’d suggest to anyone is that they pick up one of the books and read a few pages. Either they’ll like it or they won’t—which, come to think of it, is true of just about anything, isn’t it?

ANTHONY: Thanks again, sir!

LAWRENCE: You’re welcome!

You can find more of Lawrence Block’s discussions of his writing on his website, his blog, his facebook and his goodreads discussion group. You can also follow him on Twitter as @LawrenceBlock.

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Why I Love Used Bookstores

Posted by admin under ramblings

I know I’m going to sound like a record with the needle skipping, but I love used bookstores in general, and I love the Half-Price Books chain in particular. And I love them for the same reason I know I will never switch completely to e-books despite how much I’m enjoying the Nook.

What reason is that?

Because there is nothing like filling in the gaps in a treasured series collection, and being able to look at that complete, or near-complete, run on your bookshelf.

The first time I walked into a Half-Price Books store, in Pittsburgh PA several years ago, I walked out with a handful of Perry Rhodan paperbacks at a cost of $2 each. Finding those books reignited my high-school love affair with Forrest J. Ackerman’s English translations of a German science fiction / space opera series. I’ve been looking for them in used bookstores ever since.

Perry Rhodan

Likewise, one of my first visits to the HPBs in the Dallas area hooked me up with a couple of the Bantam Doc Savage reissues from the 1970s. Tonight, at two stores in Arlington TX, I picked up another 12 to fill out that collection. Including this gem:

Doc Savage battles Tyrion Lannister?

Fu Manchu. Solar Pons. Hamish Macbeth. Sister Fidelma. The Medieval Murderers anthologies. James Bond. Holmes pastiches by John Gardner, John Lescroart and LJ Greenwood. The works of Philip Jose Farmer and Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Buchan. Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Three Investigators. The early Hard Case Crime books that I missed when they were released. All series I’m enjoying slowly filling in over time as I come across them in used bookstores across the country.

Yes, I could order them through Amazon. Occasionally, I have. But honestly … nothing beats the feeling of just FINDING one of these books on a shelf in a store. Apprehension as I dig through the nostalgia section of HPB or scan alphabetically through the shelves of any store: is that a familiar logo on that spine? Could that plastic-wrapped paperback be the Carson of Venus book I don’t have? Look at all the Gardner on that shelf — are any of them the Bond books I’m missing? And what are the odds this is the time I’ll find one of those Otto Penzler-reissued “Sherlock Holmes Library” books? And then there’s the elation of finding something I know I’m missing: tonight, along with the Doc Savages, it was the second Sax Rohmer Fu Manchu book, John Gardner’s “The Return of Moriarty” and John Lescroart’s “Rasputin’s Revenge.” Those last two completed series runs (admittedly, short series — 3 books in the Gardner, 2 in the Lescroart — but still!).

There’s also the excitement of discovering something new in among the old. Tonight, I encountered for the first time Michael Avallone’s series character The Satan Sleuth, Gary Brandner’s The Big Brain, and John Creasey’s The Baron. All three look fun, similar to Doc Savage and Bond and the Saint. They could be horrible, of course. Maybe that’s why they’re not as famous as Doc Savage and the Shadow and the rest. What mattered to me was they were there, they looked fun, and they were cheap. We’re not talking collector’s mint signed first editions. I’m not that kind of collector. These are books I intend to read. Of course, I intend to read every book I buy.

The Satan Sleuth

The Big Brain

The Baron

The feeling I get when I find a book that’s missing from a run in my collection or when I discover a new long-out-of-print series that I might enjoy, is probably the same feeling some people get when they spy an especially well-aged whiskey on the glass shelf behind the bartender in a seedy little out-of-the-way joint: it’s hoped-for but unexpected, and the joy of discovery leads to thoughts of being able to savor it slowly because you may not come across it again.

That’s why I love used bookstores, and why I’ll never completely switch to the Nook.

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