Monday, December 29, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

This was his Sunday
It would have squirted
sap from a tree.

          Cornell Woolrich
          Strangler’s Serenade

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: Lawrence Block, A Stab in the Dark (1981)

Spoilers follow: I feel like a broken record, or maybe a corrupted MP3 file, waiting for the great series that I know is coming but is not quite here yet. In A Stab in the Dark, the fourth Matthew Scudder novel, Scudder takes on a cold case involving a young woman stabbed with an ice pick. Scudder forms a semi-ludicrous theory as to who and why, and when Scudder confronts the who with this theory, he obligingly confesses. Case closed. Along the way, Lawrence Block engages in one of his favorite narrative perversions: He repeatedly dangles a compelling narrative possibility before his readers—in this case, Scudder interviewing a jailed serial killer—and when the event finally occurs, the narrative skips over it. (For a jaw-dropping example of this phenomenon, see Killing Castro.) At the end of A Stab in the Dark, Scudder goes to the door of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but he does not go inside. I have a guess as to the significance of the title of the sixth novel in this series (When the Sacred Ginmill Closes), but I don’t want to stick out my neck too far. Grade C+

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

So rarely
is the truth
the simplest
possible answer.

          Donald E. Westlake
          “Party Animal”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Lawrence Block, In the Midst of Death (1976)

Three books into the Matthew Scudder series, I suspect that there may be some self-fulfilling prophecy at work in my reactions thus far: I have been told many times that the series begins relatively slowly before hitting its stride with book five (Eight Million Ways to Die). Is this what I am experiencing because it is what I am expecting, or is this what I am experiencing because it is true? I know that my semi-negative reaction to the first Scudder novel (The Sins of the Fathers) was sincere, as I have little patience for Freudian claptrap in any context. I liked the second novel (Time to Murder and Create) a bit better, if only for the absence of Dr. Freud, and now I like the third novel a bit better still: the plot of In the Midst of Death is less artificial than the earlier novels, and there is some significant development in Scudder’s character beyond his cycles of drinking and tithing. Nevertheless, I still feel as though I’m just killing time waiting for book five. Grade: B-

Pulp Poem of the Week

I hope I
break even today;
I could
use the cash.

          Donald E. Westlake
          “Horse Laugh”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review: Lawrence Block, Time to Murder and Create (1976)

Time to Murder and Create, the second Matthew Scudder novel, a dead man leaves Scudder payment to find his killer, and our hero pursues the case because he is compulsively honorable, even if he is not particularly ethical. Scudder’s plan is to tempt the killer into attempting to kill Scudder, thereby exposing the killer’s identity. By all rights, Scudder ought to die in this novel; he is, after all, a drunk who takes no particular measures to keep himself safe. Perhaps this is a half-assed suicide attempt on Scudder’s part, though when someone tries to kill him, his reflex is to fight for his own life. After Scudder fails to get himself killed, he does his best to identify the killer with his ratiocinative powers vacillating between anemic and otherworldly as the novel’s plot requires. Quick, entertaining, not entirely satisfying. Grade: B-

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

Life is a gamble,

at terrible odds—
if it was a bet
you wouldn’t take it.

          Tom Stoppard
          Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pulp Poem of the Week

You open a door
in New York,
you never know
what’s in there.

          Donald E. Westlake
          Get Real