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Borderline (Hard Case Crime) Paperback – May 20, 2014
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"A perfect example of hard-boiled, sexy pulp fiction. In other words, it is fun and keeps you turning pages." - Book Reporter
"This is Lawrence Block at his most unforgiving." - San Francisco Book Review
"A brutal story of sexual passion and bloody punishment." - Retrenders
"This collection is a must-read for both established fans and those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of being introduced to Block’s work." - Crime Fiction Lover
"Entertaining and twisted." - PopCults
"If you like your pulp fiction a bit on the raw side, you may want to make a trip to the Borderline. I’m glad I did." - Professor Mondo
"it’s as raw and visceral as anything you’ll find in bookstores today." - October Country
"Borderline is a visceral punch in the gut. It’s characters play their parts perfectly, rounding out the plot in a crime style that makes for a perfect, quick read. Block once again proves himself to be a Grand Master of mystery." - As The Plot Thins
"An important addition to Block’s library and a must read for his fans." - Book Reporter
“An edgy story pulsing with sex and violence; his wry sense of humor; a sobering sense of devastation; and all-around expertly crafted prose. what else can I say except it's an excellent story, up to Block's high standard.” – Pulp Serenade
“Talk about your page turner. I read this, something I rarely do, in a single sitting just because of its bitter and brutal force. ...you see a great writer busy creating a realm exclusively his own.” – Ed Gorman’s Blog
“Block’s inimitable craftsmanship shines through, along with flashes of his signature wit.” – Booklist
"Packs plenty of vicarious thrills, sexual titillation, and taboo breaking." - Publisher's Weekly
About the Author
LAWRENCE BLOCK is one of the most acclaimed and highly decorated living mystery writers, having received multiple Edgar, Shamus Awards and Maltese Falcon Awards, as well as lifetime achievement awards in the U.S., UK, and France (including being named a "Grand Master" by the Mystery Writers of America, the organization's highest honor).
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Borderline, which has now been reissued by Hard Case Crime, was published in 1962 as Border Lust by Don Holliday. The copyright, however, indicates that it was written as early as 1958.
It is wonderful piece of old-fashioned pulp and one of the amazing things about it is that it was written so long ago. It combines many of the risqué elements of Block's early writings in the dimestore paperback industry with the mystery elements of his later writings. Here, you have hippie hitchikers, professional gamblers, divorced housewives out to experience life for the first time, and a serial killer stalking and mutilating his prey. Block takes the reader into an amazing journey, first focusing on one of these people and then on the next and weaving them into this tale.
The setting for the story is the border between El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, which even back then fifty years ago was a lawless frontier where anything goes. Americans would cross the border to gamble, to watch shows, to drink, and do anything else that was for sale and just about anything was for sale. The book is not so much about a complex story as about the atmosphere and characterizations that Block develops of these individuals whose paths cross as they try to escape their mundane lives and find freedom in the excesses of the border towns.
Marty is the professional gambler. He lives in El Paso and gambles across the border, stopping each morning for breakfast in a greasy spoon, where he eyes Betty who every trucker in the place has his eyes on. She warms up to him and suddenly her "eyes were not so washed-out." "The skirt of her uniform hugged her buttocks, and they swayed as she walked." Marty's a gambler and, if he was not good at it, he would have to do something else for a living.
Meg Rector had black hair, "loose and long, trailing down over bare shoulders that were just barely tanned." She ended up in El Paso after spending a week at an expensive hotel in Mexico City waiting for her divorce to be final. While there, she killed a week, talking to no one and staying in her hotel, sipping Beefeater Gin. After four years of boredom being married to Borden, she wanted to live it up. She wanted to blow her top and never stop exploding. She did not even know what excitement she wanted, but she wanted it. "Maybe it meant getting laid or getting drunk or shooting dice or taking dope or driving in a fast car. She hadn't seen any excitement in too long."
Lily had run away at sixteen or seventeen, ended up in San Francisco and left there when her boyfriend's buddy robbed a place and they had to split. "She was seventeen. Her face looked about two years younger than that until you saw her eyes, which looked twenty-five. Her figure was petite but perfect." She had aged that year in San Francisco and had become cold and hard inside. And then, when they got to Dallas, her boyfriend and his friend had sold her to a Texan for a hundred dollars and split, leaving her to get beaten and abused and left penniless to hitchhike. Lilly knew some people in Mexico City and figured she could try to get with them if she could manage to get up a stake.
Cassie is a stripper that Lily meets in a Mexican bar. Between shots of tequila, redheaded Cassie convinces Lily to join her in an all-girl floor show in a Mexican brothel, a show so intoxicating that Meg practically loses her mind watching it.
Then there was Michael Patrick Weaver, man who was short, wiry, and ugly, with pig eyes, "beady pig eyes." He wore his hair combed down across his forehead in unconscious imitation of Hitler. He had liked to wander the streets of Tulsa at night as a peeping tom until he got caught and beaten. Then, he stumbled across a young girl out at night and, excited by a vampire movie, grabbed her, knocked out three of her front teeth, attacking her, and ripping her apart with his teeth. While he violated her, his teeth found her throat. The descriptions of Weaver's brutal, sadistic attacks on his poor victims leave little to the imagination.
All these people meet in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez and the story details their journey as they let loose and either live out fantasies or struggle to survive. It is a quick reading dimestore pulp read. It is not for the faint of heart and is rather risqué, adult faire. A worthwhile addition to the Hard Case Crime series, indeed.
About one-third of the volume is taken up with short stories in addition to the feature-length novel. Who knew Block wrote shorts? Well, most writers start out getting shorts published in whatever magazine will take them and Block was no stranger to the pulp magazine world in the fifties.
The Burning Fury was originally published in the February 1959 issue of Off Beat Detective Stories. On the surface, it is merely a folksy down-home tale of a miserably unhappy lumberjack taking a drink in a bar. Oh, but it is so much more than that. There is atmosphere and characterization here that is simply outstanding. The lumberjack who never gets named once had bright polished boots, but now they were dingy brown, scuffed, and battered -just like him. He tosses down shots of rotgut rye and wonders how much of the slop he would need to pour down his gullet that night. He drank till he dropped on his days off, but not when he was working because when he was working, there was "nothing to forget, no memories to grab him around the neck, no hungers to make him want to reach out and swing at somebody." But, as he sits in the bar, he explains that he knew it would be bad the minute she walked in through the door. He saw the shape of her body, the color of her hair, the look in her eyes, and knew that it was going to be one hell of a night. Her "dark green skirt was tight, and it did things to the other half of her body. He looked at her and the ball of fire in his mind burned hotter and brighter every second." Wow! Whatever is going on here, Block has set the stage in a full-on noir fashion. Drinking and femme fatales and hell on earth. It is going to be one hell of a story
A Fire At Night was originally published in Manhunt in 1958. It's a short tale about a firebug.
Stag Party Gal was originally published in the February 1963 issue of Man's Magazine. It has an interesting, attention-getting title and it's long for a short. In fact, at eleven chapters, it's long enough to be worth a read in its own right. Ed is hired by a client who is getting married in a few days, but the client has been getting calls from the mistress he dropped a few weeks earlier, threatening calls. Ed agrees to hang around as a bodyguard and attends the bachelor party. Lo and behold, Karen jumps out of a giant cake, naked as the day she was born and, when all eyes are on her, someone guns her down. Ed then sets out to solve the mystery and absolve his client from blame. The plot itself is typical of fifties era pulp, but what makes this worth reading is how solidly hardboiled the writing is.
"Even at that ghastly hour," he explains, "she looked like a toothpaste ad. Her hair was blonde silk and her eyes were blue jewels and her skin was creamed perfection." She could have been a vogue model, but "the body was just too bountiful." That's the fiancé who sits in Ed's apartment making coy comments and having the equipment to carry it off.
If you enjoy reading fifties era pulp like Frank Kane or Richard Prather, you'll get a kick out of this bonus tale.
While some Amazon reviewers have enjoyed Borderline and found it top-of-the-line pulp fiction, others have considered it to be somewhere between `explicit' and `pornographic'. Pornography tends to be rote and physical with the primary stress on `action' and little or none on character. That is not the case with Borderline, a story set in El Paso and Juarez that features five principal characters--a gambler, a bored, hypersexual divorcee, a hitchhiker forced to become an exotic dancer, a lesbian who initiates the hitchhiker into the world of Mexican stage sex (thus turning on the divorcee who had also been involved with the gambler) and, finally, a homicidal madman who carves up women with a straight razor. The lives of these characters all intersect and the story concludes with a noir ending. Make that a very noir ending.
While I would not describe the novel as pornographic, it is certainly lurid. The title is a good one; this is writing that is itself on the borderline and the violence against women will prove disturbing to many readers, a level of violence which continues in the brief short story, "The Burning Fury."
But remember, this is pulp fiction, not Nancy Drew. It's also by Lawrence Block. Make that very early Lawrence Block, many steps away from the make-it-look-easy, make-Hemingway-green-with-envy novels in the Matt Scudder series. This is Block the young man eking out a living in the literary shadows, not the grand master, but that has its own interests and Block fans will want to see the young writer at work.
In my opinion, the novel and one of the short stories come very close to crossing the line, but the novella, "Stag Party Girl" is a delight. A stag party the night before one of the characters' wedding day features a woman emerging from a cake. Unfortunately, she is the former mistress of the about-to-be-groom and she is promptly dispatched by a bullet to the heart. Everyone at the party, including PI Ed London, has been watching her and not the murderer. Ed is hired to find evidence that will benefit the groom but he is suddenly overtaken by events. Eventually he discovers the murderer and exposes him/her. This is crisp, clever, sexy (but not lurid) writing, with the touch of what will become a master. The 60 pp. novella is worth the price of the 248 pp. book.
Bottom line: not for the faint of heart, but interesting as a sign of the times. All was not `Father Knows Best' in the 1950's. Steven Marcus famously wrote about `The Other Victorians'. Here is the fare of the 1950's that would never have been seen or discussed on television.
Well this Hard Case Crime novel tells a similar gripping tale. But Lawrence Block's Noir tale was written in 1958 and first published in 1962.
Borderline tells a tale involving five characters and two cities. Marty the professional gambler is as close to a hero as the book comes. He is flawed man who has tossed out a lot of emotions and any long term relationship in his quest to remain the detached loner. He meets Meg a recently divorced woman who just wants to feel things again. Good or bad she just wants excitement.
Weaver the killer who is undergoing a transformation after raping and murdering a young girl. Lily a tragic runaway who has been badly raped and now thinks sex is her only option for survival. And Cassie the Lesbian hooker who wants to convert Lily.
This is a realistic gritty Noir novel full of sex, violence, alcohol and drugs. The writing by the young Lawrence Block is crystal clear and gripping. You will be embroiled in these five characters lives.
Hard Case Crime does a beautiful job in repackaging this material. Three classic Block shorts from the early pulps are also included.