New Stephen King Novel Coming
This is one of the old Lawrence Block sleaze titles Hard Case Crime has been reprinting. Killing Castro was somewhat disappointing, and so was this. A Diet of Treacle is a ménage à trois between two beatnik guys (one a loser, other a criminal) and a girl who’d like to be a beatnik. The book is not really a crime novel, it’s more a novel with a crime. The actual plot starts only after the middle part, but Block writes so smoothly it’s not a huge problem. The problem lies with the fact that the plot is too thin after all – and that there’s too much of the beatnik slang, with everything being cool, solid or hip. The ending is good, though, real noir stuff.
The book was first published as Pads Are For Passion (Beacon, in the early sixties), but A Diet of Treacle (name snatched from Lewis Carroll) was Block’s original title. This kind of information is something I’d really like Hard Case Crime would tell at their website. The book was first published under the Sheldon Lord by-line and I already started reading Sheldon Lord’s Kept that was written also by Block. Seems pretty solid (sic) by the first 50 pages.
I finished two books last weekend that shared the same theme: the thrill of a good kill. Both dealt the theme very differently, the other one was very humorous and free-wheeling and the other one developed some real horror out of it.
The latter was Dave Zeltserman’s Bad Thoughts that was first published in hardcover by Five Star, but is now available as an e-book. Zeltserman sure knows how to spin a dark tale, as has been witnessed by his earlier books (of which I think Killer is the best – at least of those I’ve read). And boy oh boy, is Bad Thoughts dark! The killer in Bad Thoughts has a dubious gift of being able to work in the dreams of the people he wants to hurt and seems like there’s no escape out of the situation. There are some moments that ask for the suspension of disbelief, but Zeltserman brings the thing to a well-balanced conclusion and does it with verve, through a simple-looking style that maintains the hardboiled noir style that’s so familiar to Zeltserman’s readers. In the hands of a mediocre serial killer writer, this would merely be a thriller. Now it’s something else entirely.
Lawrence Block’s hardcover Hard Case Crime outing Getting Off makes the same thing very differently. It tells about a young and attractive woman who kills men to revenge the abuse her father inflicted upon her and does it with great pleasure, first having sex with the men. Block pulls no punches in this tale that develops into a parody of serial killer novels. He turns the clichés upside down: there’s nothing inherently bad in getting your joy out of killing people. The book’s highly erotic at the same time and it’s no wonder Block has used his early Jill Emerson pseudonym in this (though this is much seedier stuff than anything by “Jill Emerson”). There are some moments in the book that feel forced, as a couple of details in the lesbian romance, but I can see Block chuckling to himself while writing those scenes.
The books are very different in depicting the reasons for the thrill kill violence: Zeltserman says there’s no reason, the guy was just born broken and it was a pity no one made anything to stop him, Block claims the abuse of the young girl made her what she is today. Seems like the Zeltserman explanation is more fashionable now, as the psychoanalytic-tinged theory of traumatized sexual behaviour has faded out of academic fashion.
Dave Zeltserman’s Bad Thoughts has also the distinction of being the first e-book I’ve read. I loaded the free Kindle Reader on my portable and I’ve been snatching some free e-books whenever they’ve been available. As a reading experience I thought it was okay, but something I’d think should be done with the real device. But as of yet, I don’t own one. As more and more interesting noir and hardboiled books are coming out only as e-books, getting a Kindle or a Nook or something similar seems something I need to do. Just too pity e-books are so expensive here in Finland.
And what a cover it is! Take a look at the never-before-published The Cocktail Waitress here. There’s also a chapter to read for a taste.
I’ve never actually read much Lawrence Block. I once read one of his later Matt Scudder novels and I really didn’t care for it. I’ll have to try one of them again. I’ve liked two of his Tanner novels, even though they are very light. A Bernie Rhodenbarr I had to quit in the middle. And then I’ve read Killing Castro.
I finally got around to reading the first book Hard Case Crime put out, Block’s Grifter’s Game that was originally published as Mona (Fawcett Gold Medal 1961). It really shows Block was a good writer even when he was very young (he was 23 when this was published, and I think this is his first, at least under his own name), the text is fluent and very readable. Block’s dialogue is paced well and crispy. It’s too bad there’s so little of it in the middle parts – the narrative turns pretty much into the protagonist’s monology. The protagonist is a con man in his late twenties. He’s quite sympathetic, though he’s a heel of the worst kind, seducing women to to live on their money for days or for months and then dropping them. There are no good people in the world of Grifter’s Game, which, combined with the pretty nasty ending, makes this a worthwhile noir novel.
Next off I’ll be reading Block’s Getting Off and Lucky at Cards. Why? I’m working on an article for a Finnish journal about sex and sleaze paperbacks. And because it’s about time I start reading Lawrence Block.
Hard Case Crime has put out some very interesting reprints and obscurities. Lawrence Block’s Killing Castro is probably of the latter kind. It’s entertaining, but I’m not sure whether I could call it a forgotten classic. It’s a story about five Americanos trying to kill Fidel Castro and trying to get 20,000 dollars as a reward. Some of them are professionals, some of them are idealists, some of them are just waiting around to die and trying to do something useful while dying.
In a weird narrative technique Block also interweaves the story with the history of real-life Castro and his rise to power. Without those parts the book would be one third shorter and I guess Block just typed them up to fill up the standard book-length. Block’s view of Castro and Cuba before him seems pretty solid, though, and even if those bits irritated me, they provided some new information!
Charles Ardai and Hard Case Crime have given us another nearly lost treasure in BLOOD ON THE MINK, the only hardboiled crime novel by science fiction legend Robert Silverberg (unless there are more like this still hidden in the pages of the crime digests of the late Fifties and early Sixties, and we can only hope that’s the case). This one was written for a magazine that went defunct before it could be published, but Silverberg sold it a couple of years later to one of his other markets, TRAPPED, where it appeared in the November 1962 issue under the pseudonym Ray McKensie. As Silverberg explains in his afterword to the novel, it turns out that was the final issue of TRAPPED, which is a shame because this novel could well have been the first of a series.
recently received a box in the mail. It was from a life-long friend, a gent
named Bill Plant who is responsible (or maybe irresponsible) for shaping much
of my taste in literature. While Bill and I remain close friends, we aren’t in
the habit of sending each other gifts on the spur of the moment, so I had no
idea what was in the box. It could have been anything from a head to…well,
anything. After making sure that it wasn’t ticking, crying, or leaking, I
commenced to open it, a formidable task since Bill apparently used three rolls
of scotch tape to seal it. After some effort, I folded the flaps back, pulled
out some newspaper packing, and…well, I’ll confess, The Kid got just a little
box was full of books. Paperback books. From the 1950s. They were marked up and
in one case a little chewed up and some of them had the binding falling loose and
they all had that sweet scent of slow but inevitable decomposition. In other
words, every one was a little treasure. These were USED, used books. Bill deals
in antiques, and will buy items such as books in inexpensive lots in the hope
of finding an acorn or two among the Buena
Sierra. Collectors, alas, aren’t much interested in paperbacks that are
dog-eared, or have had a crayon taken to them, or that have been labeled, using
an indelible marker, with a five cent price tag. took a bunch of such and sent them to me. I
don’t think I’ve had a better present in quite a while. It reminded me of one
Christmas, some fifty years ago, when my mother ordered a bunch of science
fiction paperbacks for me from the gone but not forgotten S & SF Bookstore in
New York. It was a laborious procedure back then — check books off an order
list, write a check, send the whole kit and caboodle off in the mail and wait six weeks
for delivery — since the only “Amazon” most folks knew then was either 1) a
river in South America or 2) Irish McCalla. But when that box arrived, it was
special. And so was this one.
what would I possibly want with such a litter of mutts? The idea of it, pure
and simple. These were books that had been read and re-read before being consigned
to a cellar or an attic or the back shelves of a used bookstore. Most of it was science fiction. There were Ace
Doubles in that box. Ace doubles. These consisted of two covers and two novels
bound into one; read one, flip it over, and there was another novel waiting for
you. Hard Case Crime is going to publish
two Lawrence Block novels in the doubles format in May 2012, and I can’t wait.
But these were the original thing. A few short story collections were in that
box, and included forgotten stories by famous authors (“Death of the Senator,”
by Arthur C. Clarke, for one). There were a couple of early and forgotten
novels by authors who have gone onto better things (Robert Silverberg’s THE
PLANET KILLERS); and some soft core science fiction porn (are porn paperbacks even
published anymore?). Then there was a copy of GALACTIC DERELICT by Andre
Norton, one of the first science fiction books I ever read.
there were a couple of mysteries and thrillers as well. I was six years old
when Marjorie Carlton wrote ONE NIGHT OF TERROR. It got past me the first time
but I’m going to read it this year. And there were a couple of Carter Brown
novels in that box. Most of the ladies
who contribute to The Kill Zone are probably too young to remember Carter
Brown. but gentlemen, certainly most of you do.
“Carter Brown” was the pseudonym for Alan Geoffrey Yates, and there was
a time when he ruled the revolving wire paperback racks. Who could forget those
Signet covers? I fogged up my eyeglasses in many a drugstore perusing the wares
of those gaudy damsels while pretending to look for Mad Magazine paperback
collections. I have discovered, belatedly, that the stories aren’t bad
either. It occurred to me a couple of
nights ago, while reading NO BLONDE IS
AN ISLAND, that I had never actually read a Carter Brown book until now. I had
committed many a cover to memory, however.
of the older paperbacks are now appearing in e-book format. I discovered recently that all of those Edgar
Rice Burroughs’ books which I purchased with my allowance a half-century ago are
available in Kindle format, and for free; and there are even three Carter Brown
books up for sale. It just isn’t the same, however. The smell and the small,
non-adjustable print and the feel of paper and ink aren’t there. It’s like
having a rabbit and a hat that sit next to each other without any involvement
or relationship: there’s no magic.
That may sound strange — if pressing a couple of buttons and having an entire
book appear in a wafer thin tool that you can slip in a coat pocket isn’t
magic, then what is? — but it’s true. We get something, true, but also we
give something up.
If you had a friend as good as mine (and Bill, I know you read these posts, and
you remain the best), and that friend sent you a box such as I received, what books
would you want to find in it? What would bring a smile to your face, and a tear
(or five) to your eye?