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Catch and Release Paperback – September 25, 2013
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*Starred Review* Among a roomful of awards, Block was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1994. He’s written more than 50 novels, and among his series characters are Matt Scudder, a recovering-alcoholic private eye; Bernie Rhodenbarr, a gentleman thief; and Keller, a thoughtful hit man. The 16 stories collected here are augmented by a short stage play. Rhodenbarr makes a brief appearance and ruminates on the nature of greed. Scudder spends a melancholy, nostalgic night at Grogan’s, his old watering hole, the night before it closes forever. In Dolly’s Trash and Treasures, a hoarder collects more than trash. Catch and Release is a very creepy visit with a serial killer, who adapts a fishing technique to his hobby with disturbing results. There’s a tennis fan who drifts from an intelligent critique of the modern game to a variation on stalk-the-mouse. See the Woman is a brief memoir by a dirty cop reflecting on his dark deeds and the dark future that awaits. Block’s short stories are intelligent and respectful of the reader yet often take an unexpected turn. He plays fair. If you reread the story, you’ll find that he left you little clues about the final destination but didn’t connect the dots. Block is a master of the long-form mystery, and this collection proves he’s got the short form locked down as well. --Wes Lukowsky --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The only negative about this collection, for me, was that I had already read over half these stories in other anthologies.
A Burglar’s-Eye View of Greed – A short interview with one of Block's popular series characters, gentleman thief Bernie Rhodenbarr. A lighthearted fluff piece that shows up sometimes on Lawrence Block bibliographies because it was also published separately as a limited-edition broadside.
Clean Slate – My favorite Lawrence Block short story of all time. An introduction to Kit Tolliver, the femme fatale who loves picking up strange men and taking them to bed, and loves what comes after even more. The events of this story were eventually incorporated into the novel Getting Off.
Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen –Part of the Matt Scudder series. Very short, but it fills in an important gap in Mick’s personal life between the end of All the Flowers Are Dying and the beginning of A Drop of the Hard Stuff.
One Last Night at Grogan’s— The final elegiac prose-poem for the Scudder series. Matt, Elaine, and Mick reminisce for the final time at Grogan’s Open House.
A Chance to Get Even - A crime storied centered on a poker game. Every bit as tense and expertly paced as Ian Fleming's famous sequence in Casino Royale.
A Vision in White – Tennis may be boring to watch on tv, but watching a beautiful young tennis player through the eyes of her stalker is both fun and darkly funny.
Catch and Release – This story is not really about fishing, but fishing does provide the perfect extended metaphor for a chilling serial killer.
Welcome to the Real World – The most humorous story in the collection. A widower picks up the habit of hitting balls at the driving range every Friday morning, only to encounter disdain from the “real” golfers in the club.
Dolly’s Trash and Treasures -- A short, juicy satirical character story with a dark twist. Inspired by a reality television show about hoarders.
How Far: A Play – Based on Block’s short story “How Far It Could Go”. Decent but predictable.
Part of the Job – An early lost tale from 1962. The story of how it was discovered is actually much better than the fiction itself.
Scenarios – The author provides three possible endings for a common crime scenario.
See the Woman – Two police officers, a rookie and a jaded veteran, are helpless to save a woman from her abusive husband. Block’s stories often involve murder, and he approaches the subject with humor, sometimes flippancy, other times indifference. Rarely does he take the approach in this story—which is to explore violence and death head-on with heartbreaking poignancy.
"Speaking of Greed" and “Speaking of Lust”—These novellas were originally written for a pair of multi-author short story anthologies edited by Lawrence Block. The anthologies on the whole were disappointing, but these title stories were not. They both consist of a framing device--a doctor, a policeman, a priest, and a soldier sitting around a poker table and sharing their stories and opinions of the sins of avarice and lust. The stories they tell each other--vignettes within the larger frame--each illustrate some shade, complexity, or twist on the subject at hand. The prose seems to float effortlessly off the page, as if the author is simply talking out loud to you off the top of his head, but there is a crafty subtle art going on. While it entertains, this story forces you to ask philosophical questions and perhaps redefine some of your preconceptions.
Who Knows Where It Goes—Another great example of how thoroughly the author can delve into his characters in just a few short pages. This story of man taking inventory of his abilities is utterly authentic and chilling.
Without a Body – An impressionistic life-after-death vignette told from the point of view of an elderly murder victim. Based on a real-life crime.
Bloody, tense, unforgiving, fascinating and a reminder that when the story needs it, Block has a vast array of sharp edges at his disposal and he's not afraid to use them.
I almost want this to be a fully realized novel. But maybe I don't. It's so perfect as it is, I just have no idea what could make it better. I know that when it ends, you wish it hadn't ended.
Read Catch & Release. You probably won't find a better more original story in this vein in any format this year.