Lawrence Block,
(Hard Case Crime, 2014)

Long before Lawrence Block became America's best mystery writer, he had a lucrative career as a writer of paperback crime novels and disposable soft-core porn titles, under a series of pseudonyms so plentiful that even he couldn't keep up with all the bylines he used. The books he wrote back then often went out of print just a few months after they were published and were never, until now, returned to print.

Over the past few years, Block has been reissuing these old titles as either ebooks, limited-edition collectors' editions or quality paperbacks. Borderline, originally published in 1958 under the title Border Lust and byline Don Holliday, combines the two major genres Block published in back then; it is a pornographic crime novel. In it, five characters gather in Juarez, meet each other, interact with each other and meet their fates.

Marty Granger is a gambler who lives in El Paso and crosses the border to play poker in the casinos there. He meets Meg Rector, a sexually unfulfilled recent divorcee who wants to explore the dark side. Marty is just the guy to show it to her. We also have Lily, a teenage runaway who is sexually adventurous and winds up working in a live sex show in Jaurez with the lesbian Cassie, who is in love with her. Also on the scene is Weaver, a perverted killer who likes to torture and kill women.

All of these people's worlds converge in an orgy of psychic and physical destruction over the course of the novel. There is plenty of sex -- it's the motivating factor for all of the characters -- and both it and the violence are graphic and frequent.

And that's the possible problem with the book; for some readers -- me, for example, and I'll stand on anybody's coffee table and shout aloud that Block is among our best writers -- the book is just too rough. The sex is unpleasant, driven purely by motives other than affection, and the violence borders on the sick -- of course, the person doing the violence is sick and it's seen from his point of view, but it's still hard to take.

Still, Borderline shows Block's talent. It contains several cases of his gift for characterization, giving us characters who might not be likable but they are certain fully realized and multidimensional. It also shows his gift for creating moving plots with page-turning suspense.

If you're a fan of Block's current work, you'll enjoy seeing where he came from.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

26 April 2014

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