REVIEW EVEN THE WICKED by Lawrence Block
Orion --- (0 7528 0437 5) £15.99
What is it that makes a good crime novel? Whatever it is Lawrence Block has it. Within a
few paragraphs the reader is hooked and then old Loz just plays with his catch for the
sport of it, before reeling him in. Except, well, he doesn't actually reel him in - it
goes to show that you can't take an analogy too far. In any case, what I'm trying to say
is that Block is really good. There are no great plot innovations; the furrow he ploughs
has been erm ploughed a lot er before.
What you do get are stories written with style, intelligence and wit - stories that leave
his rivals in the shade. Or is it, perhaps, out in the cold? In "Even the
Wicked" he goes to the extent of outlining a closed room murder and then, when you've
worked out the case the author leads you off in another direction. The novel concerns an
apparent psycho killer who carries out his murders on behalf of us all in the name of
justice. He announces his executions beforehand and folks can't wait to hear from the Will
of the People again after his entertaining series of snuffs of those nasty individuals who
appear to be outside the pale of the law - a child killer, a Mafia boss,a black
supremicist (slain before Will could get to him) and an anti abortionist who incites
murder in his followers. But then a lawyer, seemingly no worse than any of that pack of
hyenas,is fingered as Will's next victim and that is where Matt Scudder becomes involved.
Matt is a man with a past - unfortunately, he can't remember most of it. Now his only
connection with the demon alcohol is his occasional attendance at A.A. meetings. In
between taking things easy he takes on cases. Not for any pecuniary advantage you
understand, but because he can't help himself being sucked into murky situations when
asked by a friend, or even a friend of a friend. Yes, he's one of those Sir Galahad
detectives that swarm like flies around a warm crime novel. Put your money away, I'm doing
this for my neighbour's ex - husband's cousin. If Matt Scudder found your wallet he would
only hand it in to the cops after paying off your credit card bill. I like Matt, but I
worry that he'll be bankrupt before his next book is due out.
This is one of those books that come in the category - "A Good Read" - lucid,
urbane and witty. Mind you, it's not as amusing as the author's "Burglar" books.
They are on a different plane altogether.
THE BURGLAR WHO
THOUGHT HE WAS BOGART pbk No Exit Press --- (1 874061 55 6 ) £5.99
is, as the title suggests, a playful piece drawing heavily on Bogies'
two most famous films - "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca". All the
familiar characters are there; the fat man, the neurotic little guy with the big talk,the
semi - corrupt cop and the love interest. She is sad,alluring and mid - European. She also
has a political goal that overrides her own personal happiness. At the same time, whilst
the plot is unfolding, good egg burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr, plays out waggish
conversations with diminutive sidekick, Carolyn, a la Nick and Nora Charles from the
"Thin Man" series of movies. I could also point out that the Charles's dog is
replaced by a cat, but I wouldn't wish to give pedantry a bad name.
The Bernie Rhodenbarr books are a lot of fun and this one is no exception. For those who
don't know the bloke, Bernie is the proprietor of a second hand bookshop who supplements
his income with the odd burglary. Of course, he really makes these odd transgressions of
the bounds of acceptable behaviour not so much for the money, but because he's so good at
it. Bernie is the best housebreaker in town, but it appears that whenever he is in the
middle of one of those jobs sponsored by a third party something untoward happens -
usually a murder. And that's when Bern has to transform himself into an amateur sleuth in
order to clear his name.I know how he feels. I was writing a review the other day when the
toast burned and by sheer brain power I was eventually able to prove to my wife that the
toaster didn't exist and, even if it did, it was probably the cat's fault. So life can
imitate art - or vice versa - but so what? The reason you should read this book is that if
you don't you could fill your time reading trash like I do most of the time. JRC