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Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

Next month we are publishing A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block, the newest installment in the celebrated Matthew Scudder series. Start here with the prologue to the novel Booklist, in a starred review, called: “Genius…the prose, as always, is like the club soda Scudder sips in the opening pages: cool, fizzy, and completely refreshing.”

LATE ONE NIGHT . . .

“I’ve often wondered,” Mick Ballou said, ” how it would all have gone if I’d taken a different turn.”

We were at Grogan’s Open House, the Hell’s Kitchen saloon he’s owned and operated for years. The gentrification of the neighborhood has had its effect on Grogan’s, although the bar hasn’t changed much inside or out. But the local hard cases have mostly died or moved on, and the crowd these days is a gentler and more refined bunch. There’s Guinness on draft, and a good selection of single-malt Scotches and other premium whiskeys. But it’s the joint’s raffish reputation that draws them. They get to point out the bullet holes in the walls, and tell stories about the notorious past of the bar’s owner. Some of the stories are true.

They were all gone now. The barman had closed up, and the chairs were on top of the tables so they’d be out of the way when the kid came in at daybreak to sweep up and mop the floor. The door was locked, and all the lights out but the leaded-glass fixture over the table where we sat with our Waterford tumblers. There was whiskey in Mick’s, club soda in mine. Continue reading “Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block”

Talking Titles

It’s either one step above or one step below judging a book by its cover, but say what you will – titles matter. They matter a whole lot in the noir fiction world since back when the stands used to be filled with the salacious come-ons of pulp fiction femme fatales in lace brassieres and a bold-type title announced the goings on inside, and they matter just as much today.

The old titles didn’t hold much back – Say It With Bullets, Dig Me A Grave, Kiss My Fist – and they succeeded in convincing people to lay out a dime for the tale that went with it. Quite often the book inside the lurid cover couldn’t deliver on the promise and therefore the pulps are littered with titles that are better than the 30 – 40,000 words that followed. There’s a reason not many of those books are around anymore and it ain’t the cheap paper.

Film Noir also loves a good title and they often follow the same rule of thumb that the more outrageous the sales pitch, the worse the movie. Double Indemnity isn’t as sexy as, say, I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes, but which is a better film? You guessed correctly. (not that I don’t have a sot spot for any movie based on a Cornell Woolrich story and starring Regis Toomey)

Speaking of James M. Cain, in addition to Indemnity he proved himself a really dull title-maker despite writing some of the best books of the era. I, for one, have never quite gotten the appeal of the title The Postman Always Rings Twice, even though I love the book. Mildred Pierce is just a name, and the name Mildred at that. Quite possibly the least alluring name in history. But I sure as hell would recommend it over something like A Dame Called Murder or Dames Can Be Poison.

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Hey, Sinner Man, Where’d You Go?

You’ve probably heard the song. It’s a spiritual, and it starts out something like this:

Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
All on that day . . .

In the verses that follow, we learn that ol’ Sinner Man has run to the north, the east, the south, and the west, to the rock and to the hill and to any number of other sites, and nowhere can he find a place to hide from divine judgment. Then he runs to the Lord, and that turns out to be the answer.

When you look at it like that, it sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of the truly awful actor in the truly dreadful showcase production of Hamlet. When some audience members walk out during the famous soliloquy, he breaks character and cries out, “Hey, don’t blame me — I’m not the one who wrote this shit!”

What I did write, however, was a crime novel I called Sinner Man. It was my first crime novel, though it was a long way from being my first published novel. (And it was also a long way from being my first published crime novel, as you’ll see.)

If memory serves (and I might point out that, if memory truly served, there’d be no need for me to write this piece or for you to read it), I wrote Sinner Man sometime in the winter of 1959–60. In the summer of 1957, after two years at Antioch College, I’d dropped out to take a job as an editor at Scott Meredith Literary Agency. I was there for a year and wrote and sold a dozen or so stories of my own during that time. Then I dropped in again, or tried to; I went back to Antioch, but by then I was writing books for Harry Shorten at Midwood and had sold a lesbian novel to Fawcett Crest, and I had more books and stories to write, and what the hell did I care about Paradise Lost or Humphry Clinker, let alone The Development of Physical Ideas? So at the end of the year, I went to New York and took a room at the Hotel Rio, where I wrote another book for Midwood and, as my first for Bill Hamling’s Nightstand Books, one I called Campus Tramp.

Continue reading “Hey, Sinner Man, Where’d You Go?”