The Girl with the Long Green Heart, by Lawrence Block
I really liked this book. I knew the writing of Lawrence Block from a few short stories way back in the 1980s. I saw his name in an Amazon promotion (sorry, I didn’t record which one, and memory fails me), and picked it up for $0.99. This is the only $0.99 book I’ve ever purchased and read. I’m highly prejudiced against such cheap book stock, but I accepted it as a promotional price. The Kindle version now retails for $6.64 as of this writing.
This book reeks film noir, the potboilers of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spilane, the good old days when men wore hats (as we should).
Just look at the sentence structure of his first paragraph:
When the phone rang I was shaving. I put my razor down and walked across the room to pick up the phone on the bedside table.
Short. Clipped. Precise. Each movement or action or thought a single phrase or sentence like you’re getting the inside story from a tight-lipped guy reluctant to talk but you’ve wrung it out of him.
I’ve been thinking a lot about tone lately. This book is an example of tone perfectly matching the storytelling style, the plot, the characters, the setting.
I also love the gritty characters. There are no heroes here. Only the desperate. Civilized enough to value civilized things, but not enough to acquire them through civilized means.
There are three main characters, which means we have a lot of triangulation — one character worried about the other two, two characters talking to each other about the third. First person locked POV, so we see the world only through the eyes of the protagonist. But it’s enough. Remember, we had to lean on this guy to tell his story, so it’s his story, nobody else’s. Now, if these three characters were open and honest with each other, these scenes would be, well, boring. But Block’s characters aren’t really capable of such a thing as trust. Not without some insurance of some kind on each other, if you know what I mean.
And then Block does one of those wonderful things in storytelling. He reveals an ending we might possibly have suspected, but rejected somewhere along the way. When it hits you, you nod your head, smile grimly, then shake your head.
I like that kind of book.