LUCKY AT CARDS by Lawrence Block: Bill Maynard is a card shark not the best or he wouldnt be having broken teeth fixed in a small Midwestern town. But the stopover does give him the opportunity to maybe re-build his stash in a friendly small town game of poker. Maynard is successful in scamming the locals, but falls hard for Joyce, the sexy young wife of the games host, who isnt fooled by his card tricks. Indeed, she's got higher stakes in mind: after seducing him, she ropes Bill into that old scheme, helping her get rid of her hubby. Lawrence Block is an ideal fit for Hard Case Crimes in this Number 28 of the series, another hit from the get go.
I've been a long time fan of pulp but haven't really dipped into the realm of "real world" crime pulp. Usually in the crime pulps I read there is a buff bronze-skinned super-genius, a mystery man that can cloud the minds of men or some other fantastical element.
Even though it's a modern reprint, it has classic pulp art from the 60s which immediately caught my eye and made me give it the once over. The brief summary on the back tells of an on the run cardsharp who falls for the wife of his latest mark and their hatching a scheme to get rid of her husband. Gambling, infidelity and possibly murder? That pretty much sold me on it.
Block describes how the main character cheats at cards with the same skill Ian Fleming would talk about any card game Bond ever played. Even if it's not something you'd normally be interested in, he makes it interesting. The lingo is dealt out in such a way to make you feel like you're part of the scene instead of just reading a book.
The rest of the text is exactly what I'd expect in a hard-boiled crime novel: plenty of smoking, drinking, the occasional roll in the sheets and of course, the best laid plans falling apart. There was also the laugh out loud use of the phrase "genital gymnastics."
Here's another sample:
"Joyce walked toward me. Gears locked within me. I didn't move toward or away from her. I stood very still and she came closer. Her breasts jutted out like mortar shells. I could smell her perfume mingling with the hot animal scent of her body. She came closer, and I felt her body heat, and her lips were inches from mine. If I raised her face or lowered mine I could have kissed her. I didn't."
They don't write em like that anymore! Of course I enjoy the usual larger than life heroes and crazy things that tend to happen in other pulps but they all share a unique language which is something that keeps me coming back for more.
Prior to this, I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy this type of story firmly rooted in our mundane day-to-day world but now I know better. I'll definitely be checking out more in this genre. You can read a sample chapter on the Hard Case Crime site.
This is a fun, thrilling read. Once you pick it up you won't put it down.
Standard. Professional card-cheat (called here a "mechanic") meets hot, bored wife of wealthy tax-attorney. They plot his demise, complications ensue. How does one rate LB? His stories are better written than most of this type and keep the right pace to maintain suspense but the plots are routine. Try "Double Indemnity" or "The Postman Always Rings Twice" instead. They're still the two best lethal-trio thrillers ever. TPB