Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block

This was the very first Hard Case Crime book, published in September of 2004. Sure, Max Phillips's Fade to Blonde was published the same month, but Grifter's Game is the one numbered HCC-001, so it gets bragging rights.

It's another old Block novel from his days in the paperback mills, originally published in 1961 as Mona. (I might even have another edition of it as Mona; I have a vague feeling that it was one of the early Block books that Carroll & Graf reprinted about a decade ago.)

Grifter's Game is a solid example of that pulp classic, the bumping-off-the-husband book. Joe Marlin is a con-man who drifts from city to city, using his good looks to snag bored rich women for a night or a month, but he's beginning to think about finding one for good. But two things happen when he hits Atlantic City: he accidentally steals a large amount of uncut heroin, and he meets and falls for Mona Brassard, the gorgeous young wife of the man whose luggage (and heroin) he stole.

Before long, they come up with the obvious plot: kill the husband, keep Mona from suspicion, and marry quietly later. Grifter's Game would be awfully boring if things went according to plan, and it's not boring...

Grifter's Game is very clearly of its time and place -- the number of times Joe mentions lighting a cigarette is truly heroic -- and it's solidly in a well-worn genre. But Block does everything right here: we're solidly inside Joe's head from the beginning, and we trust and like him. The book has enough plot, but not too much, and it moves at a steady pace. (Not a particularly quick pace, though; it's only just two hundred pages long but isn't the headlong rush you might expect.)

If you want a book about a dame, and about guys who wear ties everywhere, this is a fine example.

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