Thursday, July 10, 2014

Borderline -- Lawrence Block

Borderline is what's being called these days "mid-century erotica," returned to print by Hard Case Crime.  It was originally published as Border Lust in 1962 by Don Holliday, one of the pseudonyms that appeared now and then on books published by Nightstand and others of Bill Hamling's imprints.  This book is obviously from early in Block's career, but it's so well done that it's likely to make many veteran novelists (or at least one: me) envious.

The new title is perfect for the book, not that the other one didn't fit.  It certainly did.  But this one is better because the book is about people who are crossing borders.  The setting is El Paso and Juarez, which were different cities in 1962 from what they are now.  (By coincidence, I just read Sam Hawken's Tequila Sunset, and if you want to see the cities now, check it out.)  The reason the new title fits so well is that the borders people cross in this book aren't just the physical one that separates Texas from Mexico.  They're crossing them in lots of other ways.  '

Meg, recently divorced from a boring husband, crosses the border to Mexico and crosses the border from wanting sex of all kinds to having lots of it.  Weaver is a killer.  He's killed one girl, and now he's decided that since they can only execute him once, he might as well kill as many has he can before they get him.  He crosses the borderline easily, and it's scary how well Block was writing about a serial killer before such killers became a crime fiction cliche.  Marty's a gambler who lives an ordered life.  He keeps to himself and does things his own way.  He meets Meg and crosses the border into irrational behavior.  Lily is a runaway.  She'll do what she has to as long as it pays.  She crosses the border into using whoever is handy.  They think they're using Lily, but they're all wrong.

Naturally these four characters are going to come together, and I was reminded of John D. MacDonald's The Damned, which is set farther south in Mexico but which also has a cast of disparate characters.  In fact, the opening chapters in both books are quite similar, except in the MacDonald book the point of view is a man's, while in Block's novel it's Lily's. 

But Macdonald's novel isn't noir, and Block's certainly is.  Things aren't going to end well for Block's characters, not any of them.  If you can take graphic sex and even more graphic violence, this one's well worth a look.  And there's bonus material as well, two short stories and a novella.  Ed London's the narrator of the novella, a nicely done p.i. yarn.  The first story's narrated by a rapist.  Very violent.  Be prepared.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought it sounded like JDM (Border Town Girl?) as soon as I heard of it. This is definitely on my list.