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Borderline (Hard Case Crime) Paperback – May 20, 2014
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Hard Case Crime continues to resurrect Block’s early work, often written pseudonymously, from the 1950s and early ’60s. Gleefully mixing soft-core pornography with a thriller plot, Block churned out numerous of these bound-for-the-drugstore-paperback-rack quickies as he was gaining his sea legs for the more mature work that would come later. This one makes the most of its seedy border-town setting, jumping between El Paso and Juárez, as the paths of a gambler, divorcée, hitchhiker, stripper, and psycho killer come together in an inevitable bloodbath—but not before a series of steamy, yet surprisingly stylish, couplings (There was a beginning, bittersweet and almost painful. There was a middle, fast and furious, a scherzo movement in a symphony of fire. And there was an ending, gasping, spent, two bodies washed up on a lonely, barren beach.) Who knew what lurked on those paperback racks, nestled beside the sundries, awaiting the hungry eyes of surreptitious readers? And, yet, along with the titillation, Block’s inimitable craftsmanship shines through, along with flashes of his signature wit. --Bill Ott --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"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
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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.
Crime writer Lawrence Block weaves these lives back and forth, in and out of each other, crisscrossing them until the reader cannot be sure where their life-lines are going. And when Block brings it all together, the climax is shattering. This is crime noir at its strongest, characters so driven by dark desires that they have no idea to what fate they are being driven, and when destiny catches up with them, they are more surprised than anyone at the results. The novel paints a bleak picture of two towns shrouded in moral darkness, a landscape dotted with cheap nightclubs, greasy diners lit by flickering neon, and flophouses where $2 a night is overcharging.
This edition from Hard Case Crime is rounded out by the inclusion of two short stories and a novella from pulps of the late Fifties. The first is "The Burning Fury," a dark character study of a brute whose desires are at odds with the mores of society. "A Fire at Night" is another study in shadows, this time about a fire-bug, a tightly written story with a twist in the final sentence that is as shattering as it is revealing. The final tale in the book, "Stag Party Girl," is a straightforward detective story with private investigator Ed London, a hard-boiled gumshoe who appeared in one one novel and a handful of shorter works. London is hired as a bodyguard for a man who is threatened by a former girlfriend, who must then be defended when the ex gets shot after jumping out a wedding cake at a stag party; when the client turns up an apparent suicide, it's up to London to decide whether to step aside or play avenging angel without pay.
All four stories are excellent examples of Block's early writing, when he was still developing his narrative voice. "Borderline" and the two short short stories are more alike in tone than they are different, and will certainly appeal to the fan of crime noir not too squeamish about raw sex and explicit violence. If those three tales are round pegs fitting into round holes, then "Stag Party Girl" is the square peg of the lot, the one you point to when someone asks, "Which of these is not like the others?" For all that, though, it is the cleverest of the four, perhaps the best written, and has just enough of a noir touch to appeal to fans of the genre.
The cover is graced by another original painting commissioned by Hard Case Crime, this time by Michael Koelsch, which wonderfully captures a border town drenched in lust and violence, lit by the fires of unleashed passions. If there are drawbacks to this book, it is the lack of an afterword to put the tales and period into perspective with Block's career, and the several typos overlooked by HCC's copy editor, not something that is usually found in an HCC edition. All in all, though, "Borderline" is required reading for every fan of crime noir and Lawrence Block.