Sunday, December 11, 2016

Block Squared

Sinner Man – Hard Case Crime Series – Lawrence Block (Titan Books)

Lawrence Block is easily one of the most prolific writers of his generation cranking out not only a mountain of words but in the process creating some of fictions more memorable characters like; PI Matthew Scudder, burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr and hit man Keller among many others.

When he was first stringing together words for a living Block penned a hard boiled crime novel featuring a mild mannered insurance salesman who accidentally offs in wife when he slaps her one night and she dies after crackling her skull. Panicked and trying to avoid a run in with the cops the guy stashes her body and sets out to reinvent himself. A quick train ride to Buffalo and said insurance man goes through the motions of setting himself up to be a gangster, quickly garnering the attention of the local mob.

That book, dubbed by Block as Sinner Man made the rounds with publishers who uniformly professed to like the writing, just not enough to publish the work. Block continued his journey into writing a few years later, it seems the book did get sold, he just never could remember seeing it in print. A few years back a publisher mentioned the seemingly long lost novel and encouraged Block to try to track it down so it could be re-packaged and re-released. That journey garnered some interest, but never proved fruitful in tracking down a published copy of the book, until an innocent Facebook post by a fan cross-referenced the details of the story with a book Block had self-published for wannabe writers.

Block tracked down a copy of the book which had been published under another title and brought it to Titan Books, publishers of the Hard Case Crime series of hard boiled fiction. Sinner Man is a perfect fit for the series and for this fellow Buffalo-nian (Block was born in the Queen City) the references to actual and strikingly familiar “fictional” landmarks make the book extra fun.

In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper – Edited by Lawrence Block (Pegasus Books)

Growing up in an era way before the explosion of video games, the kids in my neighborhood actually spent lots of time outdoors running around playing sports, riding our bikes and generally getting into mischief. When Mother Nature threw us a curve ball and it rained we headed into the subterranean world known as the basement and pulled out a stack of board games. These games called for a mix of skill, reasoning and a bit of luck. One of my all-time favorite games was Masterpiece, which featured auctions for the works of the great masters and the challenge of which “paintings” were real and which were fakes.

One of my favorite paintings in the game was the Edward Hopper classic Nighthawks featuring a handful of folks in a lonely diner on a darkened street. I can’t say for sure what about the painting it was that appealed to me, but one look and you had to wonder what the story was behind these folks hanging out in the diner.

It is those folks and their stories that are at the root of the new short story collection In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper edited by Lawrence Block and featuring 17 new short stories by the likes of Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver. Each writer was given a work by Hopper to base their story on.

The result is an amazing, diverse collection of stories that are equal to the masterful strokes of Hopper’s brush. No two of these stories take the same approach which makes them really stand up as they stand alone. Match these stories with beautifully printed renditions of the Hopper paintings and you get the perfect mix of art and words and it makes for a great gift for fans of either genre.

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