Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pity the Damned -- Andrew Shaw (Lawrence Block?)

PITY THE DAMNED sounds like a Gold Medal title if I ever heard one. Unfortunately, it’s not a Gold Medal. It’s a Reed Nightstand book, which means it’s a 1970s reprint of a soft-core porn novel originally published in the early Sixties – in this case, SLUM SINNERS by Andrew Shaw, the same pseudonym that was used on the reprint edition. And Andrew Shaw, at least some of the time, was really Lawrence Block.

Paperback scholar Lynn Munroe’s Reed Nightstand checklist can be found here. It’s his theory that when the earlier Nightstand Books and Midnight Readers, etc., were reprinted as Reed Nightstand books, the author’s original manuscript title was used. That could certainly be the case with PITY THE DAMNED, which sounds like a Block title to me. Supposedly the reprints were updated and revised as well, but there doesn’t seem to be much of that going on in this novel. There are a few word changes to make it more timely (a skirt becomes a miniskirt, for example), and the language might be a little more graphic than in the original, but without having a copy of SLUM SINNERS to do a real comparison, my best guess is that the revisions were slight.

This is the story of four people who live on the upper west side of Manhattan: the unhappily married couple Ruth and Glenn Lansing; beautiful, fifteen-year-old Monita Ruiz, who just wants to escape her life in the slum no matter what it takes; and tough ex-con Al Carter, who’s looking for a big score to make him rich. You can figure out going in that their storylines are going to twist and turn and intertwine with each other, and sure enough they do. As you might also guess, there’s also a lot of sex along the way, some of it fairly kinky.

Unfortunately, this never really becomes the noirish crime novel that it might have been, as some of Block’s early porn novels did. The sordid schemes that Al Carter comes up with might have gone that way, but instead the book remains more of a soap opera. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s well-written. That’s not really the case, either, as the book sort of ambles along and never generates much sense of urgency. I suspect that Block wrote it – several of the clues that usually point to his pen-name work are there – but it’s far from his best work. It’s worth reading, but probably only for Block completists (which I’m not, although I like his books a lot) or anyone interested in those early Sixties soft-core porn novels.


Charles Gramlich said...

I know a guy named Charles Nuetzel who wrote quite a few of these novels in the day, although most had more fantasy, jungle adventure elements in them. Very tame by today's standards.

Anonymous said...

Clyde Allison did some good soft core stuff in the 60's.

James Reasoner said...

I've read only a few books by Clyde Allison (whose real name was William Knoles), but they were really good.

I've read interviews with Charles Nuetzel but never read any of his books. Sounds like I ought to try them.