Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Forgotten Books: THE DEAD BEAT by Robert Bloch

I've always admired the novel that Robert Bloch wrote immediately following publication of Psycho. I am one of four people on the planet who can make that claim.

What I've always liked about it is the way Bloch took a sleazy no-good psychotic bastard and set him right down in the middle of a Midwestern family that could have doubled as sit-com people. Bloch really makes you care about these folks and how they are so slow to catch on to the psychotic jazz musician they make the mistake of trying to help.

The title signals the era, the early sixties when the Beats were so much in the news. Bloch shows us a kind of faux beat existence with the musicians we meet early on. Bloch gets the one night stand life (in both meanings of that phrase) down just as well as he gets the middle-class days and nights of the family the musician will ultimately turn on. For Bloch this is a return of sorts to his Fifties paperbacks such as The Will To Kill and The Kidnapper. Jim Thompson country before anybody knew who Thompson was. (Bloch bristled when I asked him once if Thompson had ever been an influence--he said he'd never heard of Thompson until much, much later.)

Reviewers of the time didn't like the relatvely slow pace. They also complained that the novel didn't offer the shock or sass of Psycho (I say sass because the novel is very funny in places--something Hitchcock picked up on immediately). I like the treachery and the darkness here. I didn't used to believe in evil. But now I do. Robert Bloch brings to life the kind of evil all around us.


Cullen Gallagher said...

I've read several of Bloch's early novels which I really liked (The Scarf, Shooting Star, Spiderweb) but haven't read this one. Sounds like a good one, though!

Jerry House said...

A very good book and a spot-on portrait of a sociopath.

Max Allan Collins said...

Great write-yup, Ed -- very insightful. For a writer as influential and successeful as Bloch, he remains underrated.

Todd Mason said...

Bloch always had the number of the exploitive bastards who knew how to run scams on the easily rooked.