Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Sin Hellcat

Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake are two of the most beloved writers in crime fiction. However, most fans are unaware that they co-authored three books together when they were young men starting their writing careers in New York City. The trio of paperbacks fell broadly into the category of “sleaze fiction,” and the best of these collaborations is said to be Sin Hellcat, a 1961 Nightstand paperback written under the name Andrew Shaw that’s currently available as a paperback reprint and cheap eBook.

Harvey is living a mundane, split-level suburban existence with his frigid wife and a job as a mid-level Manhattan advertising executive. He likes to remember his college years when he was a sexual, albeit inexperienced, young lover with his girlfriend, Jodi. The novel’s opening act treats the reader to generous flashbacks from Harvey’s college years when he and Jodi were first exploring one another sexually and later when he was trying to get laid at the ad agency as a mailroom clerk. These are the sexy - but never overly graphic - scenes that comprise the first half of the book in a rare example of actual genre fiction character development.

In present day, Harvey reconnects with Jodi who is now a high-end prostitute - a plot twist disclosed in the novel’s opening paragraph (which, honestly, sorta took the oomph out of what would have been an interesting twist). After spending the night at Jodi’s place, Harvey is awakened by a goon with a camera and a blackmail proposition. I won’t give it away, but I was happy to read that Block and Westlake chose to add some intrigue and muscle to the sexy mix with a plot involving international smuggling of sorts.

As a huge fan of both Block and Westlake, I had fun reading this early collaboration by them before they made it big. There were sections of the novel where I recognized each of their narrative voices in their tadpole states. Most of the paperback toggles between flashbacks from Harvey’s checkered past to the current, genuinely intriguing situation with Jodi on an international mission.

Is Sin Hellcat a lost masterpiece? No. But it’s way better than a 1961 sleaze paperback deserves to be. There’s enough titillation to keep the dudes flipping the pages, and enough edgy, adventurous content to add some substance to the work. Meanwhile, the writing style(s) is pretty excellent and genuinely funny and insightful at times. It’s not top-tier Block or Westlake, but it was a nice way to kill a few hours. Recommended. 

Purchase a copy of the book HERE

1 comment:

  1. About ten years ago, Subterranean Press collected all three books as Hellcats and Honeygirls.