It’s no real secret that I like noir, whether it be in film form or book form. It’s just so evocative of another era and a kind of person, the hard-nosed, gritty guy who lives in the real world whether he likes it or not, who no longer exists. As an escape from reality it’s just as fantastic as anything Tolkien ever put to paper. Can you imagine a Millennial Sam Spade in today’s era of political correctness? I’ll wait while you stop laughing.
So when I spotted a brand new copy of Lawrence Block’s The Girl with the Long Green Heart in the bargain bin of a bookstore at the beach town where I usually go on vacation the same bargain bin that, a year or two earlier had disgorged a King James Bible, I snapped it up. A bonus, at least for me was that it was a Hard Case Crime edition of the book.
As a writer, Hard Case Crime is on my radar as the first publisher to send any noir novels I might happen to write (I don’t write a ton of crime fiction, but if I do…), but as a reader, I just love their selection. More importantly, though I love their covers. They hearken back to the golden era of lurid art featuring scantily clad women and/or dead bodies, all tied together by excellent design work with the right sensibilities.
Block, on the other hand, was new to me. I’d read the classics Hammett, Spillane, McDonald etc., but not the bread-and-butter crime writers of the era, especially not from the sixties.
I think I’ve been missing out… a quick Wikipedia perusal tells me the man is worth reading, although this is probably not his best book. Nevertheless, it is a great example of its kind. A couple of con men get into a deal with no real idea of where they really stand… it’s grim and doesn’t pull any punches, but also hopeful in a twisted sort of way.
I think what I like most about crime fiction is that it doesn’t try to judge or moralize. It tells the story (often in the first person), as the protagonists would have told it, not as a well-educated writer might see it.
And that is what allows the escape to be fully realized. And this one works perfectly in that sense.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose latest novel, Ice Station: Death, is a creature feature thriller set in Antarctica. You can buy it here.