Forgotten Books: The Scarf by Robert Bloch; Mystery Scene Winter Issue
"This is a thread that runs through all of my mystery/suspense fiction," Bloch has pointed out. "The terrible inability to understand the irrational behavior of certain human beings, what is it that impels that sometime senseless sadistic cruelty, and I tried to familiarize myself with it because I can recognize that, deep down within, there are certain of those aspects within myself which I probably manage to exorcise by way of the typewriter."
This was Robert Bloch talking to an interviewer about why his early career shifted from Lovecraftian horror to the more frightening horror of the human mind.
Bloch had long been fascinated with the fact that while some killers were transparent many others were hidden safely inside a studied disguise of normality.
Daniel Morley, for instance, the narrator of The Scarf, is a young man gliding through life. First a novelist and then a screenwriter, always attractive to women and smooth with the men he must deal with.
One thing I admire about this novel is Morley's agonizing over what he does. He is not in control of his urges and he suffers for it. He's not the sleek stereotype of the mastermind serial killer of today. And his fetishistic attachment to the red scarf with which he strangles his victims haunts his nightmares.
I'm sure many readers will disagree with me that The Scarf is at least the equal of Psycho and maybe even a little bit better. Bloch had a good time playing humor off the Norman Bates character. You could even imagine Bloch smiling if not laughing out loud in places. For that reason I suspect that the Daniel Morley character was more difficult to make human. More pitfalls in making him believable. This is Jim Thompson country.
Much of Bloch's work has faded, the fate of most prolific writers. I was never a particular fan of his humor and it has not worn well. But he wrote two remarkable and timeless novels, Psycho and The Scarf, and a fine single volume collection of his very best stories could be set on the same shelf with the two books.
Hell, very late in his career he wrote a masterpiece, the long story "The Yugoslavs," one of the finest, darkest and most original stories I've ever read. The Scarf is well worth looking up.
--------------------------------------------From Kate Stine at Mystery Scene Magazine
January has flown by. In between big mystery award announcements; welcoming Mystery News readers; and diving into the MS Blog, Twitter, and Facebook; we're also finishing up a great looking Winter Issue #113, which should be out mid-February.
We're looking forward to bringing you a terrific cover story with Randy Wayne White, as well as a chat with G.M. Malliet, Lawrence Block's memories of Ross Thomas, a tribute to G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown, and a look at P.D. James's new Talking About Detective Fiction. Hope your 2010 is off to a wonderful beginning and we'll see you next month.