Friday, March 16, 2007

50 Ways to Kill Your Lover

Enough Rope
Lawrence Block

This is a huge collection of short stories by a man who apprently misses the good ol' days of pulp fiction and noir detective stories. It's clear that Block has read and loved a lot of these, and after reading his work, I want to go back and check out some of the authors he liberally references throughout these strange tales. There are brutal crimes, petty theft, crafty killers, and through it all is Block's amazingly dry, sardonic wit. You can't help but laugh the matter-of-fact observations of everyday people, or the utterly believable and human dialog he delivers to his characters.

In some ways, it's formulaic. Most of the stories involve loved ones getting killed in puzzling and varied ways, often at the hands of those who profess to love them. Block gets his points from the bizarre characters he births into these worlds. Some characters are so big that they live through their own series of stories, with entire books outside of this one dedicated to their existence, while others star in stories that may be stand-alone novellas without ever getting a proper name. In these instances, it's often the situation or the character's interactions that make the story.

A grown man sleeps with a 27" teddy bear. A young girl foils her own kidnapping, and still manages to take her dad for a ride. A chess-playing burglar makes a play to save his life when cornered by the homeowner. Block even makes a couple journeys to Schuyler County, where crime still happens, but with a more homegrown, Cletus-and-Jethro feel to it. Schuyler County seems to exist solely so that Block can practice writing in Good Ol' Boy.

In the second hale of the book we enter the realm of the recurring characters, and it's no wonder that Block loved tehm so much that he gave some of them multiple stories. Yet it's the most despicable characters that last the longest. Martin Ehrengraff, impeccably dressed, is a criminal defense attorney who only gets paid if his clients go free--and they always go free. Marty should be a case study for every aspiring law student. He gets more stories of his own than anybody else. I prefer Bernie Rhodenbarr, a bookselling burglar who also happens to solve crimes (not the ones he commits). Oh, and he somehow ends up shagging the hottest female in each of his stories. Bully for him.

Bernie breaks a mold, but nowhere near as well as Matthew Scudder, who starts his section of the book as the typical hard-boiled, hard-drinking, ex-semi-dirty-cop-turned-unlicensed-PI, and evolves into a much more complex character, even joining AA and sticking to cranberry juice and seltzer in the later stories. Oh, but he does marry a hooker he knew from his days on the force. (Hey, if we evolved completely, we wouldn't be human anymore)

Block sometimes offers a great story where the crime is a relatively minor point. A couple of the stories don't even involve a crime, but you never really care. Sure, there's the disappointment that nobody's dead, but the storeis themselves, even when formulaic, are so enjoyable that you don't care. I read this whole tome years ago, when I first got it for Christmas, and dug it up again to re-read it just so I could post it hear. An instant favorite. Plus, with its size (and fairly short stories overall), it's great to leave on the table for a couple months to pick up whenever you need a quick distraction, or to bury yourself in the couch for a few triscuit-munching days to drill through all of them.

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posted by reyn at 6:22 AM


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