Lawrence Block (born June 24, 1938) is an acclaimed contemporary American crime writer best known for two long-running New York-set series, about the recovering alcoholic P.I. Matthew Scudder and gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, respectively. Block was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Lawrence Block attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH, but left before graduating. His earliest work, published pseudonymously in the 1950s, was mostly in the porn paperback industry, an apprenticeship he shared with fellow mystery author Donald E. Westlake. The first of his "own" work to appear was the 1957 story "You Can't Lose." He has since published more than fifty novels and more than a hundred short stories, as well as a series of books for writers.
Block has lived in New York City for decades, setting most of his fiction there, and has come to be very closely associated with the city. He is married to Lynne Block, and has three daughters, Amy Reichel, Jill Block and Alison Pouliot, from an earlier marriage. With Lynne, he spends much of his time traveling (the two have been to nearly 100 countries), but continues to consider New York his home.
In 2005 he was honored by being awarded the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award.
Block's famous creation, the ever-evolving Matthew Scudder, was introduced in 1976's The Sins of the Fathers as an alcoholic ex-cop working as an unlicensed private investigator in Hell's Kitchen. Originally published as paperbacks, the early novels are interchangeable; the second and third entries...In the Midst of Death (1976) and Time to Murder and Create (1977)...were written in the opposite order. 1982's Eight Million Ways to Die (filmed in 1986 by Hal Ashby, with unpopular results) breaks from that trend, concluding with Scudder introducing himself at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The series was set to end on that note, but an idle promise Block had made to supply an editor friend with an original Scudder short resulted in "By the Dawn's Early Light," a story set during the character's drinking days, but told from the perspective of a recovering alcoholic. Block expanded on that with 1986's When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (named for a line in a song by folk singer Dave Van Ronk, a close friend), which proved not only one of the most literary entries, but also a favorite of the author and his fans. From then on, Scudder's circumstances rarely remain the same from one book to the next; 1990's A Ticket to the Boneyard, for example, reunites him with Elaine Mardell, a hooker from his days on the force, whom he marries several books later. Other high points are 1991's taut, gruesome A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (winner of the Edgar award for best Mystery Novel), and 1993's A Long Line of Dead Men, an ingeniously-plotted puzzler featuring a rapidly dwindling fraternity known as the "Club of 31." The sixteenth entry in the series, All the Flowers Are Dying, was published in early 2005.
Though it's been suggested that Scudder's struggle with alcoholism is in part autobiographical, Block has repeatedly refused to discuss the subject, citing AA's own tradition of anonymity.
Block's other major series, humorous and much lighter in tone, relates the misadventures of gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. The series is rich in sophisticated dialogue, wit and cynicism. Unlike Scudder, Rhodenbarr is ageless, remaining essentially the same from 1977's Burglars Can't Be Choosers, to the tenth and most recent entry, 2004's The Burglar on the Prowl. The only significant advancements come in the third volume, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979, winner of the first annual Nero Award) which sees Bernie having used the spoils from his previous caper to buy a bookstore, and introduces Carolyn Kaiser, his lesbian "soulmate" and partner in crime. The plots run very much to form: Bernie breaks into a residence (usually on Manhattan's Upper East Side), and, through a series of implausible events, becomes involved in a murder investigation...often as the prime suspect. Not even an eleven-year hiatus (between 1983's The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian and 1994's The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams) would see that basic formula change. There is, however, a meta quality to the more recent entries: Bernie, the reluctant detective, is himself a bookseller and genre fan, and is apt to make references to Agatha Christie, E.W. Hornung (his cat is named "Raffles"), Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Sue Grafton and John Sandford, among others. The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995) exploits this to full effect: set during a Humphrey Bogart film festival, the story is itself inspired by many of the actor's most famous roles. The Burglar in the Library (1997) similarly imagines a meeting between Hammet and Chandler at a New England inn in the 1940s, casting a volume inscribed by Chandler to Hammett as its own Maltese Falcon. The Burglar in the Rye is one of the more intriguing books in the series, as Bernie works to track down a writer clearly based on J.D. Salinger as reflected in the title. The Burglar in The Closet was filmed in 1987 as Burglar, with Whoopi Goldberg as Bernie (now short for "Bernice").
Besides Scudder and Rhodenbarr, Block has written eight novels about Evan Tanner, an adventurer and accidental revolutionary who, as a result of an injury sustained in the Korean War, cannot sleep. All but the last of these were published in the '60s and early '70s (beginning with 1966's The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep), while the most recent, 1998's Tanner on Ice, revived the character after a nearly a thirty-year hiatus.
This is Block's salute to the Nero Wolfe series created by Rex Stout. The character Chip Harrison is a take on Wolfe's assistant, Archie Goodwin. In the series, Block created Leo Haig, a character who openly models himself after Nero Wolfe, imitating most of Nero Wolfe's peculiarities such as refusing to leave his residence on business, sending out his associate instead to do the "legwork," and copying Wolfe's habits, such as obsession with plants but substituting the object of affection with tropical fish instead.
Block's Haig believes that Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin actually exist in real life, living and operating under pseudonyms; that Rex Stout was only a chronicler and one pseudonym of Archie Goodwin; and that if Haig proves himself worthy, Wolfe will invite Haig to dinner.
Having read all publications on Wolfe, Haig operates as he imagines Wolfe would, and assigns Chip Harrison tasks as Wolfe would assign Goodwin.
Block created Martin Ehrengraf as a sartorially impeccable lawyer who charged outrageous fees but always get his clients off the hook from whatever they were charged with. Ehrengraf always insisted that the clients he accepted were innocent and never settled for any form of pleading or bargaining.
Ehrengraf would work in such a way that most of the time, his clients never even stood for trial, the charges would be dropped after evidence suddenly turned up to show someone else was the culprit. Half the time, that someone else would also be dead, with a confession note or incriminating evidence to be found by the police. Many times, it seemed like Ehrengraf had done nothing to earn his fee, yet he always claimed it, strongly hinting to his clients, some who balked, that the surprising turn of events was the result of his orchestrations rather than revelations of the actual truth.
Two sub-themes recurred in Martin Ehrengraf stories. The first was that he would wear what was described as a Caedmon Society necktie, after a fictional Oxford society created by Block for the Ehrengraf series. The necktie and the society was introduced in the short story The Ehrengraf Defense, and subsequently, always worn by Ehrengraf when meeting his client to collect his fee, having masterminded the exoneration of the client from all charges.
Another sub-theme was that Ehrengraf would always find profit for his work, even when none seemed apparent in the beginning where the client could not afford the fee or he was called to do his share of work as a public defender.
Three episodic novels originally published as short stories ... Hit Man, Hit List, and Hit Parade ... and one full length novel ... Hit and Run ... chronicle the life of Keller, a lonely, wistful hitman who originally appeared as a semi-regular feature in Playboy magazine in the 1990s. Keller's full name is John Paul Keller (a fact that is mentioned in Hit Man), although he is rarely called anything but Keller in the series. Keller receives assignments via a contact named Dot, based in White Plains. His assignments usually take him to different cities, where Keller soon envisions himself retiring from the business, daydreaming about settling there, before finishing off the assignment and returning, his fantasies forgotten as a passing dream. Keller's unlikely pastime is stamp collecting.
Hit and Run has been nominated for The CWA Gold Dagger at the 2009 Crime Thriller Awards.
Small Town (2003), Block's first non-series book in fifteen years, details a group of New Yorkers' varying responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Block has also written dozens of short stories over the years, and he is the only three-time winner of the Edgar Award for Best Short Story. The 2002 collection Enough Rope compiles stories, 84 in all, from earlier collections, such as Like a Lamb to Slaughter and Sometimes They Bite, along with new and previously uncollected stories.
In addition to writing the scripts for a handful of television episodes over the years...including, in 2005, two episodes of the ESPN series Tilt...Block co-wrote the screenplay for My Blueberry Nights, a 2007 film directed by Wong Kar-wai and starring Norah Jones.
There are also Bernie Rhodenbarr short stories: "The Burglar Who Dropped In On Elvis" and "The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke".
Evan Tanner novels
The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep (1966)
The Canceled Czech (1966)
Tanner's Twelve Swingers (1967)
The Scoreless Thai (a.k.a. Two for Tanner) (1968)
Tanner's Tiger (1968)
Here Comes a Hero (a.k.a. Tanner's Virgin) (1968)
Me Tanner, You Jane (1970)
Tanner on Ice (1998)
Chip Harrison novels (as Chip Harrison)
No Score (1970)
Chip Harrison Scores Again (1971)
Make Out With Murder (a.k.a. The Five Little Rich Girls) (1974)
The Topless Tulip Caper (1975)
"As Dark As Christmas Gets" (1997) is a Chip Harrison short story written specifically for customers of the Otto Penzler owned Mysterious Bookshop. It was printed in booklet format for the 1997 holiday season.
Hit Man (1998)
Hit List (2000)
Hit Parade (2006)
Hit and Run (June 2008)
Paul Kavanagh novels
Such Men Are Dangerous (1969)
The Triumph of Evil (1971)
Not Comin' Home to You (1974)
$20 Lust (1961) (reissued as Cinderella Sims)
Death Pulls a Doublecross (1961) (reissued as Coward's Kiss)
Mona (1961) (reissued as Sweet Slow Death and Grifter's Game)
Markham (1961) (reissued as You Could Call It Murder)
Pads Are for Passion (1961, as Sheldon Lord) (reissued as A Diet of Treacle)
Fidel Castro Assassinated (1961, as Lee Duncan) (reissued as Killing Castro)