Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Vintage Mystery #1

I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2015. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written between 1960 and 1989 inclusive and be from the mystery category.

I read this for S-1, aka Color in the title

The Girl with the Long Green Heart – Lawrence Block

I confess that I used to be sniffy about readers who dug whodunits just because it was set in a city or region that they knew. I mean, I like recognizing streets and landscapes, but for whodunnits it’s not the setting but the story and the characters. Lew Archer doesn’t have to be in LA for Ross Macdonald to have him go through lots of satisfying and universal twists and turns.
I’ve seen the light, I’m not condescending anymore. I really liked the Western New York touches in this novel; he even mentions now defunct Mohawk Airlines, a regional carrier back in the day. The other nostalgic point is that this is set in the long gone Sixties, before transportation pattern changed and oil and gas got expensive, when places like Jamestown and Olean could hold their own economically. 

Lawrence Block says,

I was living in Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, when I began the book, and I went to Toronto, Canada, and Olean, New York, to research the scenes I set there. Year later a professor at Olean’s St. Bonaventure University booked me for a talk and reading. The book was a hot ticket in Olean, let me tell you, if nowhere else in the known universe.

He’s selling the book short. The 1965 novel, re-printed by Hard Case Crime in 2011, rocks as a caper novel. Two veteran con-artists and one greenhorn line up an Olean, New York real estate wheeler dealer on a phony “land in Canada” deal. Block gives the feeling that he has insider knowledge of con artistry. The swindler’s assumptions and concerns are narrated persuasively. Just so, because the narration is an interior monologue of a veteran con man.

The characterization of the Olean moneybags mark and the novice con artist are both excellent. The mark is so shrewd that the con artists play on his shrewdness. Illustrating W.C. Fields’ aphorism, “You can’t cheat an honest man,” they use the larceny in the heart of the mark against him.

The action moves steadily, without needless explication or cute complications. The climax has both minor and major surprises that make the ending more credible. I highly recommend this novel even to people not keen on caper stories. Years ago I stopped reading Block because the burglar and hit man hero didn’t appeal to me (I’m a prude), but his early ones, like this one, might be worth seeking out.

1 comment:

  1. I don't get real hung up on location in my mysteries--unless there is a real clue in the location somehow. But on the reverse side of this...I never really appreciated the descriptions of New York City in the mysteries I read until I actually visited the city twice (2009 and 2010). It has helped me better picture some of the action.