Showing posts with label Lawrence Block. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lawrence Block. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Flesh Parade

In the 1960s, Lawrence Block wrote many, many sleazy sex paperbacks under a variety of pseudonyms. Most were pretty mediocre, but some were kind of excellent in their own way. Flesh Parade is one of the good ones. It was published in 1962 under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw, and remains available today as a paperback, e-book, or audiobook.

Our “hero” is 21 year-old Tony Cross, and he is fresh out of the U.S. Air Force and looking to start a new life pumping gas or changing tires in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. He sees a pretty girl at the bus station, and decides to go to Cleveland with her in hopes of an encounter.

Along the way, Tony gets off the bus to get laid, and temporarily settles down in a small town. There he is propositioned by a bartender to commit a smuggling crime in and out of Canada with a woman the bartender assigns him. On this trip, he discovers the wonders of marijuana.

In a normal Lawrence Block novel, this would have been the spark for a series of criminal misadventures. However, this is a 1960s sex book written under a pseudonym. The paperback is really a coming-of-age story about a guy choosing to travel across the country getting laid at every stop. He does some pretty immoral things along the way, and the listener reader is left wondering if he will find any kind of ethical redemption or even love?

As far as plots go, it’s actually fairly weak. The sex scenes are plenty hot for the era and somewhat disturbing at times. Tony is not a good person, and you should not be rooting for him. He leaves a trail of broken hearts and broken lives behind and treats women as conquests. But he’s a dysfunctional character in a completely interesting way.

The reason you should read and enjoy this novels because the writing is very crisp. It’s noticeably a Lawrence Block novel, almost a darker prototype for the Chip Harrison books from slightly later in his career. The pages flew by and left the reader wondering how Tony would get out of one mess only to find himself enmeshed in another.

Flesh Parade is not a sleaze fiction masterpiece. If you’re looking for that, check out the novels of Orrie Hitt. But I think you could do a lot worse than this book. It was compelling as hell and you should check it out if you’re into this type of thing. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Chip Harrison #03 - Make Out with Murder

The Chip Harrison series by Lawrence Block is a very interesting anomaly in his career. The first two books are first-person adolescent sex romps ostensibly authored by a horny teenage boy named Chip Harrison. The novels are delightful coming-of-age narratives written in the colloquial style of J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye.

Thereafter, Block resurrected the character for two more novels and a short story that fall squarely into the mystery genre. 1974’s Make Out With Murder is the the third Chip Harrison paperback, but the first Chip Harrison mystery.

The story is an overt Nero Wolfe pastiche or parody. In his quest to find “A Job with a Future,” Chip accepts an apprenticeship with a quirky armchair private investigator named Leo Haig. Chip does the legwork on the streets, and Leo connects the dots to solve the cases with his allegedly-superior mind.

The underlying mystery in this installment involves a hippie chick who dies of a heroin overdose. Chip is convinced it was a murder and sets out to solve the case with Leo directing traffic from his home.

It’s a pretty basic mystery of the “interview lots of people and get your ass kicked occasionally” variety. But analyzing this as a mystery novel misses the point: This is a Chip Harrison novel, and he’s one of the most lovable lead characters in genre fiction. He’s earnest and funny and smart and wants to get laid like a normal, young guy. He’s the kind of narrator you want to spend time with regardless of the plot.

There are lots of references to the works of other mystery authors including Rex Stout, Ross Macdonald, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Fredric Brown. Fans of the whodunnit genre will have a good time here. It’s not Block’s masterpiece, but it’s definitely a breezy, fun read. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Naked and the Deadly: Lawrence Block in Men's Adventure Magazines

The good people at The Men’s Adventure Library have compiled a collection of short stories and articles by Lawrence Block originally printed in Men’s Adventure Magazines. The collection is called The Naked and the Deadly, and it collects his magazine writings between 1958 and 1968. The mass-market paperback edition has a dozen stories, and the hardcover adds color art, explanatory materials and a bonus story from 1974. 

The introduction by Block explains how these articles and stories came to be. While working at the Scott Meredith agency, men’s publications would regularly call and say, “I need a 2,500-word article about a guy who survives a shipwreck,” and Block would make it happen. Trust me, it’s better when Block explains it. Bottom line: Don’t skip the intro.

Some of the stories included will be familiar to long-time Blockheads. “Great Istanbul Land Grab” and “Bring on the Girls” are extracts from existing Block novels starring his sleepless adventurer Evan Tanner. There are also three novellas starring his private detective Ed London previously reprinted in Block’s collection, One Night Stands and Lost Weekends. Puzzlingly, the book also includes a story attributed to Block’s pseudonym Sheldon Lord called “Queen of the Clipper Ships” that the author claims he didn’t write. Honestly, I don’t know why it was included in a Lawrence Block story collection at all.

Reviews of story compilations can be ponderous, so I sampled four selections for commentary:

“The Greatest Ship Disaster in American History” (Real Men, April 1958)

This is an article about an actual steamship called The General Slocum in 1904 that sailed from NYC on the East River with passengers destined for a church picnic downstream. Poor judgement results in an onboard fire that ended 1,000 passenger lives. It was a real disaster that Block brings alive in his pseudo-historical account

Block leans into his amplified version of events vividly underscoring descriptions of the burning flesh of the children on board. It’s a vivid nightmare of how human negligence can lead to mass casualties.

“She Doesn’t Want You” (Real Men, June 1958)

This is an allegedly non-fiction journalistic article about the inner-workings of the call-girl trade with the big revelation that a lot of these prostitutes are just doing it for the money and are secretly lesbians.

These faux investigative journalism pieces are hilarious in hindsight. Included are fake interviews with hookers who were perfectly straight before “the life” made them hate men and go lesbo. Block is a fun tour-guide for this silly expose that was probably pretty shocking at the time. Now it’s just funny.

“Killers All Around Me” (All Man, September 1961)

A staple of Men’s Adventure Magazines was the completely-fabricated first-person account of an experience that the magazine falsely claims is an authentic story. In this one, Block poses as C.C. Jones, allegedly telling the story of his job in the violent ward of an insane asylum.

He describes some of the crimes that landed the patients in the ward in graphic, grisly detail. He also describes the physical attacks he’s forced to ensure from the lunatics in the hospital. As always, it’s a well-written fake-expose from the author.

“Just Window Shopping” (Man’s Magazine, December 1962)

This is a straight-up fiction short story previously reprinted in One Night Stands and Lost Weekends about a Peeping Tom who likes to watch the ladies undress through their windows.

One night, he’s watching the hottest chick ever and she catches him. The reception he receives is quite unexpected. This is a nasty little story in line with the kind of stuff we used to see in Manhunt Magazine. Nothing fancy, but a sexy bit of noir worth reading.


Paperback Warrior Assessment:

Hardcore fans of Lawrence Block will enjoy this collection of his obscure oddities. It’s worth the purchase for the Ed London stories alone, if you don’t have them elsewhere. The faux journalism articles written by Block are plenty entertaining, but shouldn’t be conflated with his short mystery works.

If you’re a student of Men’s Adventure Magazine history and want the visceral experience of looking at the vivid art accompanying these articles and stories, go ahead and spring for the hardcover. The art extras and magazine commentary from the editors are a fascinating look back at this niche publishing phenomenon.

Overall, this collection from a mystery grandmaster is an easy recommendation. If you’re on the fence, take the plunge. 

To get a copy of this book, click HERE.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Matthew Scudder #05 - Eight Million Ways to Die

Lawrence Block's fifth Matthew Scudder novel, Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), features the alcoholic detective contending with a compelling murder mystery. A young prostitute named Kim Danniken hires Scudder to convince her pimp, an African-American named Chance, to allow her to leave the fold. Kim is tired of hooking, and despite Chance's historically friendly actions and demeanor, she is hesitant about revealing her plans to switch professions. Once Scudder meets Chance, he realizes that her fears weren't valid. Chance is happy to allow her to leave. However, shortly after Scudder explains to Kim that she is free to resign, the young woman is found butchered in a hotel room. 

The plot development builds to Scudder truly caring for Kim and feeling remorse for being involved in Chance and Kim's severance. While not responsible, Scudder still feels as though he owes the dead client a hard day's work to determine who killed her. He works with the police, who are hesitant to receive his tips, and he interviews other prostitutes that Chance had employed. While Chance seems to be the most likely suspect, his alibi is rock solid. Who killed Kim?

What makes Eight Million Ways to Die resonate is that deep down in the city's grime, crime and decay, this novel centralizes Scudder's alcohol dependence. Frequently Scudder attends AA meetings, and challenges himself repeatedly to extend his sobriety into consecutive days. At one point, Scudder hits an eight-day streak. But, his dependence is just too strong. Included in Scudder's struggles is the series stomping grounds like churches, bars, coffee shops, and diners to keep the mood. There are also the obligatory conversations and thoughts about his ex-wife and kids. Some prior characters also re-appear in the novel, furthering some longevity between Scudder and his love interest. 

The book's title contains some weight, mostly emerging from consistent news reports and newspaper articles about various killings throughout New York City involving different methods of death. Scudder reflects that every minute of every day all of us are able to be killed eight million ways. We are all skirting the thin edge between existence and nonexistence each second, which is a true dark sentiment. 

If you ever had the misfortune of seeing the 1986 film 8 Million Ways to Die, starring Jeff Bridges, Andy Garcia, and Rosanna Arquette, I have to sternly remind you that this is not how Lawrence Block's novel should be represented. The film's creators lacked any real interest in what makes this series the very pinnacle of crime-fiction. Arguably, they had no idea what they were doing when it comes to film making, much less how to properly portray Matthew Scudder. Despite the talented cast, the film is just abysmal. 

Eight Million Ways to Die continued Lawrence Block's hot streak and makes for the very best of the series thus far. In fact, this might be one of the best novels I've ever read. Additionally, hearing the audio version of the book with the author's narration was a real pleasure. Highest of recommendations, Eight Million Ways to Die is an absolute mandatory read. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 100

It's the 100th episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast! Tom and Eric discuss their favorite moments from the show's past three years as well as the life and literary work of pulp and crime-fiction author Cleve Adams. Reviews include a Matthew Scudder installment by Lawrence Block and a 1957 vintage paperback called Sin Pit. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE. Additionally, you can watch the video version of this episode on YouTube HERE.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Matthew Scudder #04 - A Stab in the Dark

It is revealed in A Stab in the Dark (1981), Lawrence Block's fourth Matthew Scudder installment, that a psycho-killer wielding an ice pick savagely murdered eight young women. Scudder recalls the murders, a killing season that paralleled Scudder's own service with the New York Police Department. But, nine years have passed, Scudder is now an unlicensed, unemployed private-eye doing investigative work for favors or money. He's surprised when the murders are brought to his attention again by a stranger named Charles London.

London approaches Scudder in a diner and introduces himself using a reference from Detective Francis Fitzroy, one of Scudder's previous co-workers on the force. London explains that his daughter, Barbara, was the sixth victim of the “Ice Pick Murderer”. London reminds Scudder that recently a criminal was retrieved by the police that confessed to being the killer. He possessed enough pertinent information about the crimes to legitimately be the infamous killer. However, he presented enough testimony to convince the police that he did not kill Barbara.

In mournful fashion, London advises to Scudder that he is grieving again, as if her murder just happened considering the negative identification of her killer. He expresses that he feels a deep remorse for the way her investigation was treated, and how he has been blindly shuffled to different departments about re-opening her cold case. The police suggest there isn't enough evidence to warrant a new investigation, but London is experiencing mental anguish knowing that someone else killed Barbara for a reason that's simply unknown. He pays Scudder to look into it despite Scudder's warning that this could be a waste of time.

Scudder's trail is ice-cold, and weaves in and out of Barbara's prior life – former neighbors, husband, employer, and friends. It's a slow-pace, with a tepid action scene mixed in, but these Scudder novels emphasize mood, a certain darker ambiance than your typical gumshoe fisticuffs. Block drapes the novel in darkness and a bleak atmosphere that envelopes Scudder's own revered past and its similarities to another ex-cop named Burt. There is also brief comparison to a female artist named Jan, who suffers from alcoholism and a strained relationship with her kids.

A Stab in the Dark is another outstanding installment in the Matthew Scudder series and further proof that Lawrence Block is one of a kind. His character shading, plot development, and crime methodology are superb. If you aren't reading Block...well then you just aren't reading. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Paperback Warrior - Episode 83

On Episode 83 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss the evolution of sexual content in genre paperbacks. Also discussed: Carter Brown, Adult Westerns, Ardath Mayhar, John Kildeer, Frank Cannon, Sam Spade, Wade Miller, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Jonathan Craig and much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, at or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE


Listen to "Episode 83: Paperback Sex" on Spreaker.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 61

Would you believe that there are series characters from Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, John D. MacDonald and others that you know nothing about? We drop some serious knowledge bombs on Episode 61 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast with reviews of The Best of Manhunt 2 and A Great Day for Dying plus a special bonus unmasking of T.C. Lewellen. Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download HERE:

Listen to "Episode 61: Hidden Series Characters" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Mona (aka Grifter's Game)

Ten-time Edgar Award winner Lawrence Block rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s with his Evan Tanner and Matthew Scudder novels. It’s noteworthy that, like Donald Westlake, Block’s early literary work was soft-core porn titles published under pseudonyms like Sheldon Lord, Lesley Evans and Jill Emerson. The first book published under his own name was Grifter's Game. The book was originally titled The Girl on the Beach (Block explained that it had a Brewer/Williams/Rabe feel), but Fawcett Gold Medal changed the title to Mona when they published it in 1961. In 2004, Charles Ardai's Hard Case Crime imprint republished the book as Grifter's Game, as the imprint’s very first release.

The paperback introduces an adept conman named Joe Martin. As we meet Martin, he's arrogantly embracing the receipt of a hotel bill while secretly telling readers that he doesn't have the funds to cover it. After skipping out on the bill, Martin heads to Atlantic City where he steals a suitcase, and identity, from a man called Leonard K. Blake. After settling into a two-week stint at a posh seaside hotel, Martin's silver lining begins to tarnish – he discovers Blake had a lucrative amount of heroin tucked into the suitcase. Martin's hopes of running another successful con becomes even more convoluted when he meets the young, beautiful Mona Brassard.

Lawrence Block's writing - even at this early stage - is so tight and effective. The book doesn't possess an ounce of filler or padding. Instead, the compelling plot speeds along as Mona and Martin's heated passion intensifies. The convincing narrative offers an unusual balance beam for readers to walk – cheer on Martin's criminal behavior or hope that all of the characters face a downfall. With no distinct heroes, I was still invested in the characters’ slow, spiraling descent through robbery, murder and adultery. Block's ending gave me chills, a monumental feat considering it was originally published 60-years ago.

Mona is a masterful crime-noir that proved Lawrence Block was something truly special even 60-years ago. Today, his writing is just as good. Do yourself a favor and read this author. Become familiar with his work. Tell others about it. The affordable Grifter's Game version by Hard Case Crime is a must-have and a great starting point to embrace this author's bold and impressive crime-fiction.

Buy a copy HERE

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dead Girl Blues

Lawrence Block’s first published novel hit the shelves in 1958. His most recent novel, Dead Girl Blues, is a 2020 release. That means that the author has published books in eight different decades. Let that marinate in your mind for a minute. Even more remarkable: the quality of his work hasn’t slipped a bit. He’s still got the magic.

The narrator of Dead Girl Blues is - well, let’s call him Buddy - a former gas station clerk in 1968 Bakersfield, California. I say “former” because the narrator is really Buddy as an older man looking back on a series of events that occurred years ago and his life thereafter. Yes, it’s one of those books where the narrator is copping to actually writing the book you’re reading - with periodic breaks in the action for old Buddy to comment on the thoughts and actions of younger Buddy. It’s a literary gimmick that’s worked well for Stephen King throughout the years, and Block employs it well. There are several other King-esque aspects of this paperback, but they are for you to discover yourself.

One night at a roadhouse, young Buddy picks up a drunk chick and takes her to a rural road to have sex. Things go sideways quickly, and Buddy kills her and rapes her. Yes, in that order. It’s a pretty graphic scene that showcases some real daylight between Block and his cozy mystery colleagues. There will be no plucky spinster and her precocious cat solving this crime.

After the shocking opening chapter, it was hard to know where Block would take the reader. Is this a man-on-the-run story? A redemption tale? An “inside the head of a serial killer” novel? What happens thereafter is far more interesting and thoughtful than any of the obvious options, and Block delivers the goods like a wily veteran of the game.

At 218 paperback pages, Dead Girl Blues is shorter than most modern novels, but just-right for the old Fawcett Gold Medal potboilers where the author got his start. Of course, those vintage paperbacks lacked the necrophilia plot thread at the centerpiece of this new one. So times do indeed change - which, in a way, is the point of the book. Can a man ever be done with the past if the past isn’t done with him?

If you search hard enough on the internet, you’re bound to find a reviewer willing to spoil plot details of Dead Girl Blues, but I ain’t the one. I will only tell you that the book is definitely worth your time if you can stomach some extreme adult content at the outset. Block appears to be posing the question: Is a man defined by the worst thing he’s ever done? As for the answer, I’d encourage you to read the book and find out for yourself. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, May 15, 2020

Matthew Scudder #03 - In the Midst of Death

Beginning in 1976, prolific author Lawrence Block launched a 17-book series starring former New York City detective Matthew Scudder. The series provoked two movie adaptations – Eight Million Ways to Die (1986) and A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014). Despite being the second series installment published - one year before Time to Murder and Create (1977) - Block considers In the Midst of Death (1976) the series' third entry. After enjoying the prior novels, I was anxious to return to the dark streets of Hell's Kitchen again.

In the Midst of Death provides a slight shift in the murder mystery formula. In it, Scudder is asked to do a favor for $2,500. But, unlike the prior novels, this one isn't setup as a murder case right away. Instead, a NYPD cop named Jerry Broadfield has been accused of extorting money from a prostitute. When he asks Scudder for help, Broadfield explains that he was in the middle of working with the city on exposing the department's corruption. Broadfield, and Scudder by proxy, believes that the extortion charges are an attempt to silence him. Scudder is skeptical to side with Broadfield, or do the favor, fearing that the truth isn't entirely clear. Later, when the prostitute is found murdered in Broadfield's apartment, Scudder's investigation becomes way more complicated.

Block's dark portrait of Scudder is one of the many enjoyable facets of this series. With In the Midst of Death, Scudder strains at the ties that bind – his former life with the NYPD and the remaining responsibility that he feels he owes the brotherhood. Broadfield's exposure of the department and his fraternity of peers, put Scudder on a balance beam of ethical repercussions. Broadfield's push to clean up the corruption and Scudder's protective nature of the business and its inner sanctum – despite how corrupt it might be. The author also weaves in a romantic fling with Broadfield's wife in a brilliant parallel of what Scudder experienced with his former wife – dissatisfied family, neglected marriage, disposable fatherhood. Scudder knows where the Broadfields are headed, but knows he can't save their marriage anymore than he could save his own.

In the Midst of Death is another gripping, extremely enjoyable installment in the series. Lawrence Block is an incredible storyteller and the book's last sentence left me reeling. Some authors strive their whole lives to leave readers with a lasting impact. For Block, it's a common occurrence.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, April 27, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 41

Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 41 features an in-depth discussion of Ross Macdonald, including a review of the first Lew Archer novel.  We also talk about Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, Lawrence Block, Frederick Lorenz, Harry Whittington, and much, much more! Stream the show on any podcast app,, or download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 41: Ross Macdonald" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Matthew Scudder #02 - Time to Murder and Create

Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series of crime-fiction novels began in 1976 with the successful The Sins of the Fathers. Over a 44-year span, the author has written 17 novels, a short-story collection and a novella starring the ex-New York City detective. Scudder is a tragically flawed staple of New York's Hell's Kitchen, an alcoholic nice guy performing good deeds for average citizens. Despite being released after 1976's In the Midst of Death, Block considers the 1977 novel Time to Murder and Create as the second installment in the Matthew Scudder series.

The book begins by introducing readers to a charismatic informant named Spinner. During Scudder's career in law-enforcement, Spinner often supplied details closely related to a crime or criminal suspect. Through that relationship, Spinner formed a trust for Scudder that is evident through Block's opening pages. In it, Spinner presents Scudder an envelope with an ominous set of directions to only open the package if Spinner ends up dead. Shortly thereafter, Spinner's corpse is fished out of the river and Scudder opens the envelope.

Skirting around any potential spoilers, Scudder learns that Spinner was collecting monthly installment payments from three individuals. The first is a wealthy, productive architect, the second is the seductive wife of a rich New York elitist and the third is a wealthy entrepreneur developing a political candidacy. What do the three have in common with Spinner and why are they each paying him money? Scudder's role is to determine which of the three debtors murdered Spinner.

Block's narrative is grossly compelling as Scudder learns the identities of each suspect and assumes Spinner's role as payee. By doing so, he purposefully makes himself a target for the killer. With tight-knuckled suspense, the investigation digs into the mortal turpitude of each debtor. As Scudder begins to understand the payments, he questions his own vulnerability. Again, without spoiling it, there's a brilliant complexity to Scudder's relationship with the architect. Scudder's own personal tragedy closely aligns with that portion of the narrative. The end result is another feather in the hat. Lawrence Block's Time to Murder and Create is a riveting, emotional reading experience with no clear-cut heroes or villains. It's an unbiased look at human behavior and the ultimate costs of our failure. Masterful.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Cinderella Sims

At the very beginning of his career, Lawrence Block was barely making a living writing surprisingly readable paperbacks for sleaze paperback publishing houses. His 1958 meal ticket was originally published by Nightstand Books with the title $20 Lust under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw. Later, Nightstand recycled the novel as Cinderella Sims, a title that stuck for a handful of reprints under Block’s own name. The book remains available today as a reprint title released on Block’s own publishing imprint for his historical oddities.

Former police reporter Ted Linsdsay is a recovering drunk from Louisville, Kentucky whose wife left him for another man and died in a car accident soon thereafter. Ted left his old life behind and moved to New York City in search of a new start, a reset. He lands a job slinging hash on the graveyard shift of an all-night diner and falls into a predictable, if dull, pattern of life. All that changes one day when Ted sees a stacked babe living in the apartment house across the street. He is immediately smitten and stalks her to learn that her name is Cinderella “Cindy” Sims.

It takes awhile for much of anything to happen in this paperback. Fortunately, Ted is an interesting enough character and Block is a talented enough writer that reading the novel’s first third wasn’t too much of a chore. Once things get rolling, you have an honest-to -goodness crime story to read and enjoy. Without spoiling too much, it involves a crew of con artists, a casino gambling scam, and a satchel full of cash. With those ingredients and Lawrence Block driving the narrative, you’re in good hands.

It really was a different world back in 1958, and some of the scenes in Cinderella Sims really drive that home. Marital rape and unprovoked violence against women are shrugged off and the plot never pauses to consider what just occurred. In another scene, the narrator describes the gays of Greenwich Village in terms that we don’t use today in polite company. I actually like these elements of vintage fiction, not because of some anti-PC crusade, but because they place a work of fiction in a particular time an underscore how far we’ve traveled in the culture today. It’s also interesting to consider what societal norms we exhibit today that will be seen as jaw-dropping and inappropriate 60 years from now.

Because Cinderella Sims is a Nightstand Book, the promise of several erotic sex scenes are fulfilled, but it’s nothing terribly graphic. This is a sexy femme fatale crime novel rather than a porno book with a crime story pretext. If you read enough of these, you can tell the difference. There’s also a compelling plot and lots of bone-crunching violence as the paperback veers toward its satisfying conclusion.

In short, there’s nothing not to like about Cinderella Sims. It’s an outstanding little crime novel with a boatload of titillation and thrilling action. Lawrence Block was smart to rescue this one from obscurity and make it available today. It’s a real winner. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 20

Our feature this episode is Ed McBain’s popular 87th Precinct series coupled with Eric’s review of the first installment “Cop Hater.” Additionally, Tom covers Lawrence Block’s “The Girl with the Long Green Heart.” Stream below or on any popular streaming service. Download directly here (Link).

Listen to "Episode 20: Ed McBain" on Spreaker.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Not Comin' Home to You

Lawrence Block authored three stand-alone novels between 1969 and 1974 under the pen name of Paul Kavanagh. The third of these books was titled “Not Comin’ Home to You” and has since been re-released in several printings under Block’s own name, including an affordable eBook currently available while supplies last.

The story is loosely based on an actual 1958 murder spree conducted by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in Nebraska. Block originally thought his fictionalized version of the events would make a good screenplay, but he abandoned that idea in favor of making it work as a novel first. When the movie “Badlands” was released dramatizing the actual Nebraska murders, the idea of adapting Block’s novel for the screen was scrapped. Fortunately, the paperback lives on.

Before the lyrical title was conceived, Block originally called his crime spree tale “Just a Couple Kids.” The kids in question are Jimmie John Hall and Betty Dienhardt, two restless young people in 1974 America. When we meet Jimmie John, he is hitchhiking through Texas high on speed with nothing but the clothes on his back and no particular destination in mind. Eventually, Jimmie meets up with restless, corruptible, and virginal Betty, and the bad decisions become supercharged as the pair hits the open road together.

The main focus of “Not Comin’ Home to You” is the manipulation and gradual corruption of Betty as the body count rises in the road trip’s wake. There’s plenty of graphic sex between 22 year-old Jimmie John and 15 year-old Betty in scenes whose appropriateness has not aged well with time. However, I won’t waste your time wringing my hands concerning honor of a fictional teen girl. The loss of her innocence - in more ways than one - made for fascinating reading. The reader bears witness as Betty grows numb to the explosions of increasingly violent opportunism displayed by Jimmie John throughout the novel.

Although Block never cites it as an inspiration, it would be hard to believe that he wasn’t familiar with John D. MacDonald’s similar adolescent thrill-kill novel, “The End of Night” from 1960. One’s ability to enjoy either book relies on your willingness to spend time with young sociopaths. This is another book where there’s really no one to root for. You can feel sorry for naive Betty, but she’s no heroine.

Block’s writing and character development are predictably excellent, but this isn’t among his greatest hits. Nevertheless, the paperback is never dull and has plenty of violence. If you’re a fan of couple-on-the-run, juvenile delinquent, bloody pulp fiction, you’ll likely enjoy “Not Comin’ Home to You.”

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Specialists

“The Specialists” was a 1969 action-suspense paperback by Lawrence Block that was originally released by the Fawcett Gold Medal imprint and has been reprinted several times over the past 50 years, available today as a $5 eBook. The novel was written by Block as the first in a series, but the author never wrote a second book with the characters leaving the novel as a stand-alone footnote to a storied career as a mystery grand-master.

Fans of team-based men’s adventure series titles (The A-Team, Able Team, Phoenix Force) will feel right at home with “The Specialists.” They are a group of Vietnam vets using their special forces and infiltration skills against organized criminals on the streets of America. They steal bad money from bad men and use the funds to finance their operations and private lives. When an opportunity arises, they receive a telegram from their leader, paraplegic Colonel Roger Cross, and the five ex-soldiers under his civilian command report for duty ready to kick some ass and make some cash.

In the book’s opening chapters, we meet the members of the team going about their separate lives as they begin receiving telegrams telling them to drop everything and report for duty (“Avengers assemble!”). To society, they are a rare stamp dealer, an encyclopedia salesman, a travel agent, a short-haul mover, and a professional gambler. This time around their target is a slimy mobster who owns banks he regularly robs to collect the insurance proceeds. The banks also serve as a money laundering vehicle for juice loans and other ill-gotten gains. He’s the kind of villain who receives oral sex from a paid hooker while keeping a pistol pressed up against her head - just for kicks.

The plan to defang the racketeer banker and take his money was audacious and complex - probably more so than was necessary but always in service of the plot and page count. Block’s writing is serviceable but not the top of his game, but the characters he created in this one are enjoyable enough to keep the pages flying by. The adventure’s conclusion was typical of the genre, and the ride along the way made for a fun trip.

Block never wrote a second book in the series, but it seems that everybody and his brother explored the same idea over the subsequent decade. If you set aside your normal high expectations for a Lawrence Block novel and walk into “The Specialists” looking for a slightly smarter version of The A-Team, you’ll probably walk away satisfied. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Matthew Scudder #01 - Sins of the Father

Lawrence Block's most prolific and successful series character is Matthew Scudder. Throughout a 43-year span, the author wrote 17 novels, a short-story collection and a novella about the alcoholic ex-New York City detective. Many fans speculate that the Scudder novels are reflective of Block's own past struggles with alcohol. In Writer's Digest, Block wrote that when he created Scudder, "I let him hang out in the same saloon where I spent a great deal of my own time. I was drinking pretty heavily around that time, and I made him a pretty heavy drinker, too. I drank whiskey, sometimes mixing it with coffee. So did Scudder."

The series debuted in 1976 with the successful novel “The Sins of the Fathers.” In the book's opening pages, we find Scudder as a rather tortured soul bearing life's deep scars and the weight of a burdensome guilt. An alcoholic divorcee, the ex-New York City detective now lives as a recluse in the low-rent section of Hell's Kitchen. Scudder's fall from grace occurred when his bullet, intended for a fleeing criminal, went astray and killed a young girl. After leaving his family and career, Scudder now accepts jobs, and referrals from his former Lieutenant, as an unlicensed private investigator.

In a coffee shop in Midtown, Scudder meets with the father of a recently slain young woman. He asks Scudder to look further into his daughter's murder despite the open and shut appearance of the case. The woman was shredded with a straight razor by her male roommate. After the murder, the man was found wandering the street half-naked, covered in blood and speaking in gibberish about raping and murdering his own mother. After his arrest, the man committed suicide in his cell.

Speculating that there is a clear culprit exposed, Scudder hesitantly accepts the job and promises to do a thorough examination of the evidence and report his findings to the woman's father. Block then pairs the reader with Scudder's investigation, structuring this 180-page novel into a familiar police procedural. We become spectators as witnesses, suspects and motives are inspected. As the plot thickens, the narrative expands into psychological suspense that propels the procedural process into an exciting murder mystery.

“The Sins of the Fathers” represents a transition between the wild 1960s crime noir into the more graphic and intense 1970s crime-fiction market. Lawrence Block captures America's moral erosion, the tearing down of the family structure and the wholesome ideals that came before it. Here, the author profiles the murderer as a homosexual necrophiliac with mother figure fascinations. Perhaps I'm pulling the wrong thread, but Block's deeper analysis of religion, guilt, family relations and youth are abstract, yet on-point for what was ultimately the new normal of the 70s.

With this series debut, Block has created a worthy, yet flawed protagonist who will compel readers to delve more and more into the series. While not a hard-hitting action formula, Scudder's tenacity and grim approach is more than enough to keep readers invested in Block's storytelling. This is a sold first step in what will become one of crime-fiction's most treasured series titles from a master of the genre.

The discussion of the novel was featured on the Paperback Warrior Podcast on July 8th, 2019 (LINK).

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Monday, July 8, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 01

It’s the debut of the Paperback Warrior Podcast! In this episode, we’ll provide an introduction to our hosts Eric and Tom. Together, we look at the show’s primary focus on vintage fiction and our introductions to the genres. We’ll discuss the goldmine of paperback treasure, the famed Chamblin’s Book Mine in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as two novels - "Sins of the Fathers" by Lawrence Block and "Penetrator #14" by Chet Cunningham. Plus we look ahead at the upcoming episodes and highlight some content featured right here on our flagship site, Stream the episode below or on Stitcher. Android users will find us on the Radio Public app. You may also visit us on the following services:

Spreaker, Soundcloud, YouTube, Direct Download, Castbox Listen to "Episode 01: Welcome to Paperback Warrior" on Spreaker.