Saturday, June 21, 2014

Crossing the Border

by Lawrence Block

3 out of 5 professional gamblers would bet on this book.

Madonna warned us how dangerous it was to keep pushing your love over the borderline….

Lawrence Block books have been the spine of the Hard Case Crime line, and Borderline shows his pulp/porn roots off in all their glory by reprinting one of his old short novels originally titled Border Lust written under a pseudonym along with three short stories from the same era.

In El Paso, Texas tourists looking for sleazy kicks cross the border to Juarez, Mexico. A professional gambler plays poker, a divorcee with a critical case of hot pants is looking for kicks, a down-on-her luck beatnik (a/k/a damn, dirty hippie) winds up working a sex show and a budding serial killer prowls for new victims. 

This is a solid little piece of pulp with an edgy nastiness to it, like popping a piece of candy in your mouth and finding out it was actually a hunk of broken glass. It’s also filled with enough graphic sex scenes to make a porn star blush. Add in the some brutal murders and it’s obvious that Block was operating squarely at the intersection of Sex & Crime that was where these kinds of old paperbacks lived. However, talent shines through and Block made all of the characters feel interesting and real including a nice piece of work getting inside in the head of his sicko killer.

It also reminded me a lot of Small Town, a book Block wrote about a group of New Yorkers in the aftermath of 9/11, in the way that it blends someone looking for kinky thrills stirring up other characters and adding in a serial killer. Pulp in one era is a respected novel by a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers Association in another.

Two of the short ones, The Burning Fury and A Fire At Night, are crime stories that don’t do anything spectacular but again show that Block can probably crank out a good piece of writing in his sleep. 

Stag Party Girl is a longer mystery in which private detective Ed London, hired to protect a groom from a jealous ex-girlfriend before his wedding, investigates the murder of a woman killed in shocking fashion right in the middle of the bachelor party. The resolution of the mystery seems far-fetched, and London is a pretty typical PI character for the most part. But there’s something in the smaller moments here when the detective is talking to people that seem like Block was figuring out a style he’d later use for his great Matt Scudder character. It’s almost like London is Matt’s ancient ancestor.

I enjoyed the book as a whole, but it’s definitely of its time and genre. If you like old school pulp and/or are a big fan of Block then it’s worth a read.

Also posted on Goodreads.

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