Monday, May 19, 2008

A Diet of Treacle -- Lawrence Block

Like LUCKY AT CARDS, A DIET OF TREACLE is a Hard Case Crime reprint of an early, pseudonymous novel by Lawrence Block. In this case, the book was originally published by Beacon Books in 1961 under the title PADS ARE FOR PASSION and the pen-name Sheldon Lord. It’s the story of Joe, Shank, and Anita, three young people who become involved in the hipster drug scene in Greenwich Village circa 1960.

Unlike LUCKY AT CARDS, the crime element in this novel is fairly slight, unless you want to count all the pot-smoking and drug-dealing. The main criticism that’s been leveled at A DIET OF TREACLE in the reviews I’ve read is that not much happens. That’s certainly true. Most of the book is taken up by the back-stories of the characters, and the event that you’d think would ignite most of the action in a book like this doesn’t occur until very late in the plot, and from that point on things feel rather rushed, especially after the leisurely pace of the rest of the novel.

Which isn’t to say that A DIET OF TREACLE isn’t worth reading. It certainly is. As it was from the beginning of his career, Block’s prose is so smooth that it’s a joy to read. None of the characters are very likable, but he fleshes them out so skillfully that you want to find out what happens to them anyway. And he provides a nice verbal snapshot of a particular time and place. I wasn’t there, so I can’t say how accurate that portrait is, but it certainly feels realistic. So I can recommend A DIET OF TREACLE, just don’t go into it expecting to read a hardboiled crime novel.


Vince said...

I had the same reaction you did, James. Read this book more as a time capsule of beat-era New York than a crime novel and you'll have a fine time.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed LUCKY AT CARDS. Your mention of Block's smooth prose style in an early book is enough to make me one to read this title. Thanks for the good review.