On The Rap Sheet tonight writer John Peyton Cooke makes the case for The Scarf and not Psycho being Robert Bloch's true masterpiece. I'm not sure I agree but since they're both fine books what the hell.
Cooke's excellent review reminds me of another overlooked Bloch novel, the one that came right after Psycho and that nobody much seemed to care for, namely The Dead Beat. What I've always liked about it is the way Bloch took a sleazy no-good 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. He 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.
Reviewers of the time didn't like the relatvely slow pace. They also complained (as I recall) 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). While it's certainly not Bob Bloch's masterpiece, it's a novel that shows him in a more expansive mood, showing an interest not just in the story but in showing us life as it was lived back in the day.
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THE DEAD BEAT is one I have to pick up, yet. I wonder how his double from Hard Case has done. (Was the other day listening, on Hulu, to the last ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR to be broadcast, a Blcoh script of a Edward Hoch story (a rare dramatization of an AHMM itme), directed by William Friedkin. Not superb, but a decent finale, and quite possibly not meant as such (Hitchcok promises to see us Next Time). Even Bloch's most reflexive exercises in distaste for demimodial bastards, such as collected in BLOOD RUNS COLD, usually have a snap to them...and then there're things such as "The Animal Fair," where the improbability of the events is utterly overmatched by the verisimilitude Bloch brings to the work.
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