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SMALL TOWN by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block’s 54th novel
SMALL TOWN [A highly ironic title as it depicts - that is peels and cores The Big Apple and its denizens even those at the bottom of the barrel] is also this versatile and sly author’s most ambitious book to date.

Always a master of that un-American blasé and facetious touch, more typical of the British literary lions, Block is also a peerless wordsmith who can always get the best out of a triple, or even a quadruple, entendre. His handling of the kinkiest farther reaches of sexuality is unfailingly and superbly droll and non-judgmental . He blithely indulges this devilish tendency throughout the new book,which is richer for his no-holds-barred candour about eroticism.

A far-ranging murder mystery, akin to Block’s hard-nosed yet laid-back "Matt Scudder "series of whodunits, SMALL TOWN centres upon an accomplished but ‘blocked’ writer John Blair Creighton, whose books don’t sell too well, arrested and accused of slaying a middle-aged realtor in a fit of either passion or in a drunken stupor. As with all Block’s serious books; as opposed to his "Bernie Rhodenbarr", "Chip Harrison" and "Evan Tanner" comical caper novels; alcohol and its avoidance trigger many of the characters worst and best deeds. Few contemporary authors in any genre have caught so adroitly the lure of liquor and its shunning hour-by-hour and day-by-day.

The actual perpetrator is possibly a man haunted by the loss of four of his nearest and dearest in the September 11, 2001 tragedy, and its aftermath. Or so it seems, although his motivation initially appears to be highly perverse This shadowy tormented figure stalks the principals in the days building up to Creighton’s trial., whilst the author is out on bail. A recovering gay alcoholic and ex-addict Jerry Pankow; an overweight and ageing yet charismatic lawyer Maurice Winters,; a former NYC Police Commissioner and aspiring mayoralty candidate Francis Buckram; and Susan Pomerance a shameless hussy and hedonist - and a passionate art dealer - round out a feisty cast of quintessential New Yorkers : men and women never at a loss for words and always eager to fling themselves into the fray on the teeming streets of the Big Apple. That devil-may-care attitude that used to personify New Yorkers.

Block is a man who never wastes words. He speaks directly to the reader in the most elegant and straight-forward manner, making the writing of fiction that sings seem utterly simple and entirely natural.. Such superb craftsmanship most likely takes highly assiduous preparation and thorough-going re-writing, yet the strain seldom shows. Here and there Block can be a tad silly and sophomoric when he strains his sure grasp of the vernacular to strive after a variant of Wildean wit (and wisdom) that eludes the modern mentality. People never have mouthed perfectly formed epigrams except upon the stage. Even people in the highest stratum of New York society I dare say.

© Alex Grant Feb 2003

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