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Strange Embrace/69 Barrow Street (A Hard Case Double) Hardcover – May 31, 2012


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69 Barrow Street, originally published in 1961 under the name Sheldon Lord, is the kind of smutty pulp novel that would have remained lost in the thrift-store spinner racks if not for two facts. One, Sheldon Lord went on to become Lawrence Block, and two, it’s actually kind of good. Read straight, it’s the raunchy, melodramatic tale of a kept Greenwich Village painter who turns a lesbian straight—but it’s impossible not to see Block winking out from behind some of the breathless hyperbole. Strange Embrace (1962), originally published under another Block pseudonym, Ben Christopher, is less a sex book with a crime in it than a mystery with a little sex thrown in. Broadway producer Johnny Lane is about to open a surefire hit when he finds his leading lady nude in bed with her throat slashed. Someone doesn’t want the play to open. It’s a by-the-numbers showbiz caper, but again, there are funny bits, such as a Japanese butler who only pretends to be inscrutable. Block’s afterwords explaining each book’s origins will be pure catnip for fans. --Keir Graff
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Product Details

  • Series: A Hard Case Double
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Subterranean; Deluxe Hardcover Edition edition (May 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596064897
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596064898
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on June 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Lawrence Block is one of the greatest American mystery writers who ever lived. He has proven that time and time again in over 100 books. Series characters created by Block, such as alcoholic PI Matt Scudder, the lighthearted burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr and the stamp-collecting hit man named Keller, are beloved by millions. In the mid-1990s, the Mystery Writers of America honored him with the title of Grand Master, which he richly deserved.

STRANGE EMBRACE and 69 BARROW STREET are two early gems written by Block, now published for the first time in half a century and under the author's own name by Hard Case Crime. They are a must-read for all his fans.

In the old days of publishing, now rapidly changing, you would have to wait a year or two to read a new Block novel. And your ability to read any book by your favorite writer was limited by the amount of copies of his or her work that were still in print and on bookstore shelves. Some of us remember the delight in working our way through the Block or Robert B. Parker or Donald E. Westlake shelves of our local bookstore. This is how writers went to college in their craft.

The challenge was that many great authors, like Block and Westlake, had careers that stretched back to the days of pulp fiction and wrote under dozens of pen names. So it took the most dedicated of fans to track down their favorite author's work, and finding books out of print for half a century could be an expensive and ultimately futile task.

This now has changed for the better. The Internet and eBooks has been a great way for authors to get their early work out to readers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Anna Marie on July 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Two gems from Lawrence Block's "early days" get a thumb's up in this double-issue book. Neat little mystery set in the world of theater in "Strange Embrace," and a peek into the seamier side of 1960s Greenwich Village in the character study "69 Barrow Street" showcase the storytelling talent that fully developed in the Matthew Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, and Keller book series by this author with a gift for dialogue. Not for you if you're put off by the explicit cover and some soft-core aspects (common in a number of his early pseudonymous novels) in content. (It IS called "69 Barrow Street," after all!) Tip: read "Barrow" first.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dave Wilde on October 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A 1962 Midwood paperback by Block's early pen name Sheldon Lord is guaranteed to be pulpy, sexy, possibly raunchy. This book is about Greenwich Village in the early sixties, described as being the former location of many artists and writers, but now filled with junkies, queers, perverts, and the dregs of society.
And, it was where Ralph Lambert and Stella James lived. Stella was tall beautiful blonde and a tigress. Ralph was a failed artist who hadn't painted a thing in months and lived off Stella's inheritance. Ralph was bitterly unhappy with the arrangements and considered Stella a first class bitch on wheels. There was no monogamy in this arrangement either as far as Stella was concerned. She enjoyed both men and women and Ralph put up with it.
Susan often organized parties in the apartment which were often little more than marijuana fueled sex orgies. Many of the couples had no jobs and lived in the Village.
Susan Rivers, who was a lesbian, was a neighbor and afraid of Stella. Both Ralph and Stella have designs on Susan.
No one survives this story whole. They all come out twisted and damaged.

Strange Embrace is a 1962 novel by Lawrence Block, originally published under a pseudonym, Ben Christopher. Block explains that it was published by Beacon and Beacon was a particularly chessy publishing house of softcore stuff so no one put their real names on Beacon books at that time.It was originally intended as a tie-in to a tv series, Johnny Midnight, starring Edmund O'Brien as a theatrical producer with a wisecracking Japanese butler, Ito. The series ran for a full season of 39 episodes, but was then not renewed.

With the name of the title character changed to Johnny Lane, the book was off and running.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lawrence Block is a grand master of crime fiction, both in production and in execution. Those who follow his Scudder (Liam Neeson cinematic version in the works), Bernie R/burglar, Keller, Tanner, et al. series have probably wondered about his earlier books. For years we have known that he dealt in pulpy erotica; now we can see actual examples.

Strange Embrace (by `Ben Christopher', a pseudonym borrowed from his pal, Don Westlake) and 69 Barrow Street (by `Sheldon Lord') are now available in a back to back double from Hard Case Crime. Each of the brief (150-60 pp.) novels includes an afterword by LB on the circumstances of its writing; these will be fascinating for diehard fans.

My advice: start with 69 Barrow Street and end with Strange Embrace, the longer and stronger of the two books. The latter is, explicitly, a mystery. 69 Barrow Street is more of an atmospheric piece--a young (early 20's) LB's take on the threatening decadence of Greenwich Village. Ralph Lambert, an aspiring painter, lives there with a bisexual, drug-loving femme fatale named Stella James. Stella is alluring and cruel. Into this dangerous setting walks Susan Rivers, a sweet lesbian for whom Ralph develops a yen and Stella develops a . . . well, it's probably not going to be anything leading to a positive, interpersonal experience. Ralph wants to paint Susan; then he wants to love her and be loved in return. Will this be possible and will he be able to protect her from Stella?

Strange Embrace is a theatre novel. Producer Johnny Lane is putting on a show with the somewhat improbable title of `A Touch of Squalor' . . . until his leading lady turns up nude, on her bed, with her throat slashed. Then his leading man follows--positioned the same way and dispatched in the same way.
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