Lawrence Block

"Small Town"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JAN 20, 2003)

The opening scene is done really well. Jerry, a recovering alcoholic who makes his living cleaning homes, has come to his friend and customer Marilyn Fairchild's apartment to do his weekly cleaning. The scene is slightly scandalous...whiskey glasses, a coke dusted mirror, a pair of black panties tucked into one of the chairs. He goes about his business, even doing the vacuuming before deciding that perhaps his friend isn't just asleep. He's right. She's been strangled, and as he sees her laying peacefully in her bed, he realizes that he's completely compromised the crime scene. The only leads the police have now are a missing blue stone rabbit fetish, and the fact that John Creighton was the last man seen with her. But John, a writer struggling to finish his seventh book, doesn't remember anything...he sort pf remembers having a drink with her, and that's about it. So who murdered Marilyn? The cops think they know the answer, but the readers will have the pleasure of an introduction almost right away.

The book is actually pretty decent. Lawrence Block's a very good writer; he has a way of drawing some really wonderful scenes. Character, in this, plays a huge role. He has a huge cast of people, each with their own well-defined voices, their thoughts very realistic. Their purpose is not just to propel the story, but to act as a part of one of Block's under themes -- in many ways, Small Town is a meditation on the events of September 11th, 2001. How it changed the flavor of the city, how it changed the lives of the people, not just in the obvious ways as they deal with loss at various levels, but deep down. Some of Jerry's thoughts on the matter, in particular, resonate. "First time he saw the new version, [of the I love New York slogan] on a tee shirt in a shop window, the damn thing moved him to tears. But then for a while there almost everything did. The capsule biographies of the dead that ran every day in the Times, for . He couldn't read them, and he couldn't keep from reading them."

So there's a lot of good. I reviewed and loved Block's Hope to Die recently, and was really pleased with his work. By now, you can sense the buildup..."But what?" you might be thinking.

Well, it's not one of his stronger books. The first thing that drove me mad is the fact that, while John is a nice guy, he's not real bright. For , the rabbit fetish I mentioned earlier. It's missing, and the police get a warrant to search his apartment for it. They don't find it. A chapter or so later, he finds it in a clothes drawer. Does he go and take a walk next to the river, during which the rabbit "accidentally" slips from his pocket? Does he wipe it of fingerprints and throw it in a dumpster? Hide it in his landlord's closet? No. He displays the thing. Next to his computer. Yes, the one thing that can tie him to the case....and oh, do the cops want to tie him to the case...and he displays it for all to see.

My second objection is that in some ways the plot seems to be a thin linkage for the main female lead, Susan Pomerance (who I affectionately call the sex maniac in my head) to star in her own perverse...and when I say perverse, I don't mean kinky, I mean degrading and scenes. Block says in the beginning of the book that this is the first of his novels that his late mother didn't get to read...making me wonder if he's been saving these scenes for a long time, and now is getting to write them.

All and all I wouldn't throw this book away completely. It's Lawrence Block, for goodness sakes. But if you're new to him, I may gently suggest you try another one of his books first, and reserve this for when you realize how good he can be.

  • Amazon readers rating:from 68 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to

Hard Case Crimes reprints:

Matthew Scudder Mysteries

Keller Series:

Bernie Rhodenbarr Mysteries (reprinted 2006)

Evan Tanner Mysteries (reprinted in 2007):

Writing as Paul Kavanagh


Movies from Books:

  • Nightmare Honeymoon (based on Deadly Honeymoon)
  • Eight Million Ways to Die (1985)
  • Burglar (loosely based on The Burglar in the Closet) (1987)
  • Keller (based on Hit Man)
  • A Walk Among the Tombstones


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Book Marks:



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About the Author:

Lawrence BlockLawrence Block was born in Buffalo, New York in 1938. He attended Antioch College in Ohio then went to work in the mailroom of a New York publisher. His first story was published in 1957 and since has written more than thirty novels and countless stories and articles, not just under his own name but also as Paul Kavanagh. Indeed Lawrence Block has had several pseudonyms having learned his writer's art crafting erotic literature as Andrew Shaw, Sheldon Lord and Jill Emerson.

His novels range from the urban noir of Matthew Scudder to the urbane effervescence of Bernie Rhodenbarr, while other characters include the globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner and the introspective assassin Keller (Hit List). He has published articles and short fiction in American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, GQ, and The New York Times, and has published several collections of short fiction in book form, the most recent being his Collected Mystery Stories. Larry is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe award. In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Spain, and, as if that were not enough, was presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. He is a past president of the Private Eye Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014