Monday, December 19, 2016

Sinner Man - Lawrence Block

Donald Barshter is an insurance salesman in Danbury, Connecticut, just an average guy who one day accidentally kills his wife in the course of an argument. Instead of facing what he has coming to him for that crime, he decides to leave town and establish a new identity for himself elsewhere. That turns out to be Buffalo, New York, and the new identity is that of Nat Crowley, an up-and-coming mobster. And son of a gun, wouldn't you know that Nat has a real talent for organized crime, so he soon finds himself rising in the ranks of the local mob. Of course, he has to kill some more to do it . . .

SINNER MAN is the first actual crime novel Lawrence Block wrote, although not the first published, and for decades it was considered a lost novel before the discovery that it was published in 1967 by Softcover Library (the same publisher that was known earlier as Beacon Books) under the title SAVAGE LOVER and the pseudonym Sheldon Lord. The story behind that is told in Block's excellent afterword to the new Hard Case Crime edition of SINNER MAN, published for the first time under Block's name and with its original title.

It's an excellent book, too, much too good to have been lost for decades. But we can be glad that it's been found and reprinted. Some of the plot is a little far-fetched, but Block is very good at making such things seem not only plausible but very possible. It's a good portrait of the era in which it was written, as well. Block admits to doing some slight revisions, but he left the period references alone, which is always good as far as I'm concerned. I also noted that this very early novel shares some thematic elements with his recent novella RESUME SPEED, which I also read not that long ago. It's interesting to compare the two tales written more than fifty years apart. RESUME SPEED doesn't fit quite as neatly into the crime fiction genre, but its protagonist is certainly a spiritual cousin to Donald Barsthter/Nat Crowley. I've already given RESUME SPEED a high recommendation on this blog. Now I do the same for SINNER MAN. It's a very good novel.


Roy Epstein said...

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Roy Epstein said...

I meant lederer.....Not lederman