Monday, March 05, 2007

Hard Case--Lawrence Block; Richard S. Prather

Falling behind in my Hard Case crime reviews so...

Forty-two, forty-three years ago Lawrence Block, still a very young man, was writing prose so sleek and knowing that it holds up as first rate crime fiction all these years later. And of course he got even better.

LUCKY WITH CARDS is the tale of a cardsharp who seems lucky to escape some angry suckers he cheated in Chicago--lucky until he meets a fetching young woman named Joyce Rogers who enlists his services in helping to kill her husband, an important man in the small Midwestern town where our cardsharp is resting up after the beating the suckers laid on him in Chicago.

This is my kind of hardboiled, a beleivable low life in a beleivably low life situation with none of the feigned neo-noir posturing or the tough guy crapola of so much Fifties hardboiled. Block has a keen eye for middle class businessmen who are often the targets of con artists and it's amusing to watch him sketch them for us. The beer, the card table, the cigarettes, the dirty jokes, the pecking order--boys night out. Block gets it down just right.

A fine relentless reading experience.


I'm glad Richard Prather lived long enough to hold a copy of THE PEDDLER in his hands. The last time I talked to him he was very excited about this publication. And he deserved to be.

Like most kids my age I started reading Shell Scott novels when I was thirteen or so. At the time I wasn't aware that Prather had written anything BUT the Scotts. Then I stumbled on to a couple of his stand alones and I was amazed that anybody who could write the almost whimsical Shell Scotts could write the dark and brutal books he did for Lion and a few real downline companies.

THE PEDDLER takes one of the Fifties' most popular themes--the rise of a street urchin inside the mob--and makes it unique by making the context as memorable as the protagonist. Prather generally foregoes all the mob cliches and gives us instead an interior portrait of a rather unlikable and--all things considered--not too bright mob soldier. In this respect, Prather's book reminds me of Wade Miller's classic THE DEVIL ON TWO STICKS which, even more than THE GODFATHER, is the most unique and memorable mob novel I've ever read. You know the fate of these two men by the end of the first act. The fascination is how they will get there.

THE PEDDLER is one of those non-stop reads fueled by rage, sex and greed. It belongs in every serious hardboiled collection.

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