If I was a little ambivalent toward the last Hardcase Crime book I read, Stephen King’s THE COLORADO KID, that’s not the case at all with GRIFTER’S GAME by Lawrence Block. I own a copy of the original Gold Medal edition of this novel, which was published in 1961 under the title MONA, after the beautiful young woman that the narrator, con man Joe Marlin, meets and falls for in Atlantic City while his life is already being complicated by a stolen suitcase with a fortune in uncut heroin in it. And from there, as they say, things get worse.
Though this was one of the first novels published under Block’s name, he was already a seasoned pro by 1961, having written quite a few soft-core porn novels (many of which were actually crime novels), mostly under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw. This experience shows in the writing, which is just as smooth as can be and carries the reader along quickly. Maybe the plot wasn’t quite as twisty as I expected, but it’s still compelling. And the ending is about as noirish as you’ll ever find. Dark stuff, but great.
As mentioned above, I own a copy of MONA, but I’ve never read it because it’s rather brittle and I didn’t want to damage it. This is one of the advantages of having Hardcase Crime around. Thanks to their reprint, I don’t have to take a chance with the original to enjoy this fine novel.