Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Girl with the Long Green Heart

“The Girl with the Long Green Heart” was a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original novel by Lawrence Block released in 1965 that was brought back as a Hard Case Crime reprint in 2005 with a new cover by the great Robert McGinnis (although the original cover art was quite fetching). It’s a con-man story in the same vein as “The Sting” and it’s an absolutely terrific read.

Johnny Hayden is a master of the long con with a specialty in land and stock scams. After a stretch in the joint, he’s working in a bowling alley futilely saving his pennies so he can one day break into the hotel business. Johnny receives a visit from a younger, less-experienced fellow grifter named Doug Rance who comes with a proposition for a job. Rance has identified a mark named Wallace Gunderson who is ripe for the picking, but he needs Johnny’s help to make it happen.

Johnny is a great first-person narrator, but it wouldn’t have been much of a story if he declined Rance’s offer and went back to polishing his balls at the bowling alley. Instead, he’s back in the game honing and tweaking Rance’s plan to engage in a little theft by deception. After the initial setup and planning, it’s off to upstate New York to meet the mooch. A good bit of the action also takes place in Toronto, an underused setting in classic crime fiction.

I won’t give too much of the con away here other to say it involves land in Canada that may or may not be of interest to speculators interested in uranium mining. Gunderson is a jackass and a blowhard, so you don’t feel a bit sorry for him as Johnny and Rance work their magic. Rance enlists the help of Gunderson’s secretary, Evelyn, who has her own score to settle with her boss. Evelyn is a scorned woman with larceny in her long green heart and a real looker to boot. She needs to work closely with Johnny to make this scam happen, and, well, you can probably see where this is going.

If you like con-man novels, “The Girl With the Long Green Heart” will be right up your alley. The story’s big twist wasn’t a huge surprise and the conclusion was a bit anti-climactic, but it was a blast to read from beginning to end. It’s another early-career winner from Lawrence Block. Recommended.