Diamond Geezer : An Appreciation of the work of LAWRENCE BLOCK

Written by Simon Kernick

 

I first came across the name Lawrence Block in a musty second-hand bookshop near London’s Kings Cross. It was the autumn of 1996, the weather was bad, and so was my mood. I was in a job I hated, my boss was putting a lot of pressure on me, and I needed something to lighten my load. That’s the beauty of a good book. It helps you escape, and at that time escape was exactly what I needed.

As I perused the shelves of the crime section, a title jumped right out at me: A Walk Among the Tombstones. A Walk Among The Tombstones, Book JacketAs a writer, I can’t tell you how hard it is to come up with a good title for a book - something eye-catching, original, and compelling - but this was it. I picked it up, saw that the author was someone I hadn’t heard about, and started reading. It took me less than ten lines to know that I was on to something good. The dark, sardonic voice of unlicensed New York PI, Matt Scudder, dragged me straight into the story, his calm, explanatory words somehow making the bloody murder at the end of the first chapter far more shocking than it could otherwise have been. I immediately bought the slightly dog-eared copy, read it in one day, and finished it thinking that in Lawrence Block I’d come across someone who tears up the rulebook governing the conventions of crime fiction, with stunningly impressive results. I was also hoping he’d written a few more books.

And he had. Boy, he had.

Lawrence Block has been producing quality fiction - mainly, but not exclusively, crime - for close to forty years, and unlike some authors who reach the top of their game and find themselves letting things slip, he continues to produce work that has little equal. It’s not just me saying that, either. He’s won the Shamus (twice), the Edgar, and now the CWA’s Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement. He’s prolific, too. More than fifty novels to date, and countless short stories, so once you’ve discovered him, you’ve got plenty to keep you busy.

Block’s work has featured a number of interesting protagonists, from Keller, the cerebral hitman who likes to collect stamps, to Tanner, the Korean war vet who’s incapable of sleep and has spent twenty-five years in a deep freeze; but he’s best known for his long-running series characters, Matt Scudder and Bernie ‘the burglar’ Rhodenbarr - the latter of whom was played so unmemorably by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1987 movie disaster, Burglar.

Bernie and Scudder are two very different sides of the Block coin, and demonstrate perfectly his versatility as a writer. Whereas the Burglar books tend to be light-hearted and gently humourous in tone, harking back to the cosy mysteries of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh where a murder was simply an excuse for an entertaining whodunnit, Scudder’s cases are as hard-boiled and gritty as they come, played out against the backdrop of the mean, unforgiving city. The Burglar On The Prowl, Book JacketI enjoy reading the cheerful, slightly immoral fables of Bernie, whose penchant for liberating property from its rightful owners seems invariably to end with him stumbling across a murder scene and getting fingered for the crime, but my personal favourite of Block’s characters will always be Scudder, the one I discovered first. What I like most about the Scudder novels is that nothing is black and white. Cases are wrapped up, but never in a neat, sanitised manner. People suffer, and sometimes justice isn’t always done. Every person involved in the intricate, carefully plotted works is tinged with grey. Scudder’s lover is a former prostitute, now artist and real estate magnate, while his friends include men who operate well outside the law, such as the self-confessed killer and gangster, Mick Ballou. Such is Block’s skill at characterisation that even men like Ballou are effortlessly able to retain the reader’s sympathy. Even Scudder himself has a certain ambiguity about him. He’s no squeaky clean hero. He’s killed people himself, and he’s worked on behalf of some pretty dodgy individuals, including drug importers and blackmailers, but you still feel that he’s on the side of natural justice. He has weaknesses, he has strengths, but most of all he has personality. In short, he’s believable.

And he ages too, like Bernie. Like the city of New York. Block started writing the Scudder series in the mid seventies, a time when his PI was a young man in his thirties. The city was different then, and so was he. An alcoholic with a chequered history, and a family he’d as good as abandoned, Scudder cut a sad, lonely figure. But since then he’s fought back against the bottle, grown wiser, lost some friends and gained others, found romance… And always kept going, solving some brutal crimes in the process while entertaining a growing band of readers. Now well into his sixties, he shows no sign of letting up.

And nor does his creator. When 9/11 occurred, Block responded by writing a novel about the richness of life and the resilience of his home city. Small Town is both murder mystery and New York fable, as seen through the eyes of a number of its citizens, and it succeeds brilliantly on both fronts. It was a book he should never have had to write but it is a testimony to his own resilience, and his ability as a writer, that he wrote it, and wrote it well.

If you haven’t come across Lawrence Block before, then I’d highly recommend that you start looking. You won’t be disappointed.

Simon Kernick and Larry Block At The Diamond Dagger Awards
Simon Kernick & Larry Block At The Diamond Dagger Awards

Shots Ezine organised a chat with Larry Block to really find out what makes his work so special and for this we asked long-time fan, thriller writer Simon Kernick to interrogate the Diamond Geezer.

 

Simon :

We read how much you appreciated being recognised by the CWA in your message on their website (www.thecwa.co.uk); have you a message for your UK readers and followers?

Larry :

A big thank you for the readers. As for the followers - do I really have any? You know, I felt that people were following me, I’ve tried to tell myself it’s just paranoia. But. . .

 
Simon :

Small Town, Book Jacket
 
Your latest UK release is Small Town. It’s a standalone story that follows a few weeks in the lives of a disparate group of New Yorkers against the backdrop of a campaign of mass murder by an unhinged, and very unusual, serial killer. By your own admission it was written in response to the events of September 11th, 2001. How important was it for you to write it?

Larry :

Very.

Simon :

It’s an ambitious book in terms of the number of central protagonists that you use - all of whom are very different from each other - and the way their lives collide. Did it require a great deal of forward planning?

Larry :

Actually, I worked it out as I went along. I don’t seem to be capable of much in the way of advance planning, in fiction or in life itself.

Simon :

I understand that the main draft of Small Town was completed in a matter of weeks at the Ragdale Writers Colony, no mean feat considering it’s one of your longest books. Do you tend to write in short but very productive blocks and have breaks from the day job in between, or do you try to write something every day?

Larry :

The first.

Simon :

Early on in Small Town, one of the characters utters the line ‘that was the thing about New York - if you loved it, if it worked for you, it ruined you for anyplace else in the world.’ Does that sum up the city to you?

Larry :

I don’t know that any sentence could sum up New York - or London, as far as that goes. But I think the statement is true.

Simon :

One of Small Town's most important characters is the fiction writer, John ‘Blair’ Creighton. Throughout the book we gain insights as to how his writing career developed, including how, after a number of rejections, he sold his first piece and was paid in copies. How did you start out, and were you despairing in the early days of ever becoming established?

Larry :

I was too young for despair. Despair’s something one has to grow into.

Simon :

How much did you base Creighton on yourself? Do you share his views that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for most new authors to earn their living from the craft?

Larry :

I don’t think we’re much alike. But he got that one right, certainly.

Simon :

What’s the earliest story you ever wrote, and how old were you?

Larry :

I don’t remember. Late teens.

Simon :

You like to make use of writers’ colonies when working on your books. Have you always done that, and in what ways do you feel it improves your work?

Larry :

I’m capable of more intense concentration and application when I’m isolated that way.

Simon :

Your two main series characters, Bernie the Burglar, and ex-alcoholic PI Matt Scudder, are very different personalities. Bernie’s a mischievous charmer whose adventures have an almost ‘cosy’ style about them, whereas Scudder is a guy who’s taken something of a battering through his life and seen far too much of New York’s dark heart. Which of the two would you rather have dinner with? And is one easier, or more satisfying, to write than the other?

Larry :

I’m afraid I don’t like that kind of hypothetical question about my characters. They’re both satisfying to write, in different ways.

Simon :

In the latest Scudder, Hope to Die, you introduced an element of third person narrative for the first time in the series, allowing us to see things from the killer’s point of view. In hindsight do you think it would have worked with any of the earlier books? And will you be using it again as a narrative device ?

Larry and Lynne Block At The Diamond Dagger Awards
Larry & Lynne Block At The Diamond Dagger Awards

Larry :

Maybe. And dunno.

Simon :

Weren’t you tempted to add Matt Scudder into the mix in Small Town?

Larry :

No.

Simon :

We haven’t had a Bernie the Burglar book in a while. Apparently one is in the offing. If so, can you tell us when we’ll be seeing it in the UK? And can you let us know a little about it?

Larry :

No Exit published The Burglar on the Prowl in March, and I probably ought to let it speak for itself. It’s not yet out in the States, pub. date is March 16, but people who’ve read it seem to like it. My chief hope is that it will add the phrase “Pardon my Latvian” to the language.

Simon :

It’s clear from the Bernie the Burglar novels that you know the tricks of the trade vis-a-vis breaking into a whole variety of supposedly secure places. Who taught you those tricks? And would you have tried your luck as a burglar if the writing hadn’t worked out?

Larry :

Crikey, you can’t expect me to answer that one, can you?

Simon :

The above apart, what would you have done for a living if you hadn’t succeeded as a writer?

Larry :

No idea.

Simon :

Movie adaptations of your books have been made before but haven’t, in my opinion, been true to your work. I do recall, however, that there has been much talk of filming A Walk among the Tombstones’, one of my favourites in the Scudder series. Can you bring us up to date about what’s been happening with that?

Larry :

At the moment, after a great deal of horseshit, not a single thing is happening.

Simon :

Matt Scudder always has a ready supply of classy one liners that demonstrate a dry, gallows humour. Most writers, myself included, would love to be able to think up even half as many for their own characters. Where do you get them all from? And are you the sort of guy who uses them in your own conversations?

Larry :

No, I’m notoriously boring in person.

Simon :

Keller, the amiable killer-for-hire from Hitman and Hitlist, is the type of character that you can’t help but like in spite of yourself. It’s a novel idea to have your main protagonist as a murderer. How did you ever think up a character like him? And how sympathetic do you find him, bearing in mind that he occasionally kills a complete innocent and doesn’t appear to lose huge amounts of sleep over it? Ditto Dot, his handler?

Larry :

I don’t lose much sleep over it either.

Simon :

Is Keller going to be making reappearance at some point?

Larry :

I’ve written a novella which will appear in a collection my friend Evan Hunter has put together, and eventually I expect it’ll be the opening of the third - and very likely final - Keller novel.

Simon :

The vast majority of your work concerns characters living and working (or burgling!) in New York, and the events that shape their lives. Which other writers using the same backdrop, do you admire?

Larry :

Damon Runyon, Leonard Bishop, Jerome Weoidman, Irving Shulman, John O’Hara. (I try never to say anything nice about another living writer.)

Simon :

You’re a truly prolific writer. In general, how much forward planning/research do you do before embarking on a book?

Larry :

Precious little.

Simon :

The future. What does it hold for fans of Lawrence Block?

Larry :

Hell, I don’t even know what it holds for Lawrence Block.

Simon :

Thanks very much for your time and patience and enjoy your visit to London.

 
Simon Kernick and Larry Block at the Diamond Dagger Awards
Simon Kernick & Larry Block At The Diamond Dagger Awards

Simon Kernick is the critically-acclaimed author of three London-based crime thrillers: The Business of Dying, The Murder Exchange and, most recently, The Crime Trade. (Bantam, £12.99). His fourth novel, A Good Day to Die, is due for release in June 2005.

More information on the works of Lawrence Block is available from :-

 

www.lawrenceblock.com

 

More information on the works of Simon Kernick is available from :-

 

www.simonkernick.com

 

Shots Ezine would like to thank Larry Block, Simon Kernick and Maggie Griffin for this article.

If you want to see the photographs of when Larry visited London for the award of the Diamond Dagger, click here :-

Diamond Daggers Page 1

Diamond Daggers Page 2

Larry and Lynne Block at the Diamond Dagger Awards
Larry & Lynne Block At The Diamond Dagger Awards

 

Photographs © 2004 Ali Karim and Mike Stotter

 

 

 

 


abortion pills website abortion pill buy online
my girl friend cheated on me link online
i dream my husband cheated on me catching a cheater how many women cheat on husbands
reasons why women cheat on their husbands my husband cheated with a man what to do when husband cheats
redirect husbands who cheat website
spyware for mobile phones free phone spy apps free phone spy app
why do women cheat on their husbands infidelity marriage affairs
dilatation and curettage can you get an abortion without your parents knowing surgical abortion stories
aids picture early symptoms of hiv in men hiv symptoms in men pictures
abortion jokes legal abortion article on abortion
cheat wifes west-bot.com women who cheat on husbands
i cheated on my husband and got pregnant sigridw.com should i cheat on my husband
free pharmacy discount card open walgreens in store coupons
how to spy on cell phone app spy phone spy a cell phone
kamagra fitness.markmcgookin.com thyroxine
internet drug coupons modelosguayaquil.com coupons for viagra
coupons for prescription medications interview-questions.sumedh.in pfizer viagra coupon
coupons prescriptions discount drug coupon free printable cialis coupons
gedeones geodon mecanismo de accion geodon pfizer
buscopan hund buscopan buscopan preis
claritine d blog.jp-sa.org claritine d
amoxicillin nedir alexebeauty.com amoxicillin 500 mg
amoxicillin-rnp achi-kochi.com amoxicillin 1000 mg
amoxicillin antibiyotik fiyat amoxicillin al 1000 amoxicillin antibiyotik fiyat
herbal abortion pill unbosqueparaelplanetatierra.com abortion pill information
free trial voucher free trial voucher strattera 60 mg price
acetazolamide spc guitar-frets.com acetazolamide
coupons prescriptions cialis coupon code cialis coupons 2015
cialis coupon 2015 cialis prescription coupon discount prescriptions coupons
priligy thailand priligy 30 mg priligy apteekki
information about abortion pill third trimester abortion pill average cost of abortion
free abortion pill laziendaalimentacoes.com.br different types of abortion pill
cialis coupons free drug prescription card 2015 cialis coupon

Lawrence Block



Home
Book Reviews
Features
Interviews
News
Columns
Authors
Competitions
Blog
Shop
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor

THIS WEBSITE IS © SHOTS COLLECTIVE. NOT TO BE REPRODUCED ELECTRONICALLY EITHER WHOLLY OR IN PART WITHOUT PRIOR PERMISSION OF THE EDITOR.