Joining the Hard Case Crime book club was the best $6-a-month investment I made last year. (It was also the only one I made, but I'm confident that if there'd been others, it would still be on top.) Sometimes the books are reprints with awesome new covers, sometimes they're original publications, some of them are stronger pieces of writing than others, but they've all been entertaining. They make me happy. If you enjoy the crime genre and aren't offended by the un-PC (especially in regards to how the ladies are treated), they're well worth a read.
Lately I've been exploring Lawrence Block -- I tore through the first Bernie Rhodenbarr book and one about Matthew Scudder, which gave me an inkling of his range, and, just to round things out, I brought home all four Keller books for the holiday weekend -- so, since I was in the groove, I decided to jump ahead a bit and read another of Block's Hard Case titles.
The Girl with the Long Green Heart was originally published in 1965. It's about Johnny Hayden, a retired grifter. After a miserable seven-year stint in San Quentin, he's been playing it straight -- working in a bowling alley, taking correspondence courses in hotel management and saving every penny. At the rate he's saving, in ten years, he'll have enough money to buy a local hotel. Ten years. In ten years, he'll be fifty.
So when his old associate Doug Rance shows up with a plan for a long con that'll set him up with enough cash to buy the hotel, he decides to do this one last job. It's a job that requires help on the inside. Luckily, the mark's secretary has a big reason to hate her boss... and, as it turns out, she's a natural at the grifter's game.
I really loved this one. Johnny tells his story simply and believably in a voice that has that noir accent without ever feeling like a caricature. Which is impressive. He jumps from the main story to flashback and back again so seamlessly that I kept falling into the flashbacks and forgetting that the main story even existed -- his voice made everything that vivid and real and in-the-now.
I didn't want to care about him -- long con stories so often go the same way that I generally try not to get attached -- but he was just so damn likable. His narration of the game moved along with lots of those how-to details that I love, and while, due to the conventions of the genre, I guessed at some of the twists before they came, I had no idea how Johnny would react or what the outcome would be. Surprises came fast and furious towards the end, and the ending itself left me feeling a whole lot happier than I expected it to -- it was so nice to run into a grifter without a tendency towards deep dark depression.
(cross-posted at Bookshelves of Doom)
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