Friday 28 February 2020



Lawrence Block's new collection assembles seven works of fiction written over a period of sixty years.

"Hard Sell," a story ghost-written under Craig Rice's name, appeared in the first issue of Ed McBain's Mystery Magazinein 1960, and features Rice's hard-drinking yet clear-thinking lawyer, John J.Malone.

"Dead to the World," which appeared under a one-shot pen name in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, has been lost for years, and the story of how it was lost and found is as interesting as the story itself.

The same is true of "Whatever It Takes," written over a quarter of a century ago and never submitted anywhere, because the author filed it away and forgot about it; he came upon it, dusted it off, and sent it to AHMM where it was published.

"I Know How to Pick 'Em" was written for Dangerous Women, the George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology, and a holdback clause in the contract kept it out of LB's previous collections.

"Autumn at the Automat" was also written for an anthology, LB's own In Sunlight or in Shadow, and won an Edgar Allan Poe award as Best Story of the Year. 

"Gym Rat" has never appeared in print; it was ePublished as part of a Center for Fiction project. While readers have suggested the protagonist might return for further appearances, LB is doubtful. Still, he's been mistaken before. 

"Resume Speed," the title novella, was published in hardcover (by the stellar Subterranean Press) and as a Kindle Single (by the author). Subterranean's edition is out of print and hard to come by, and the story now appears in paperback for the first time. While it was written only a couple of years ago, it has its roots in a story the author overheard perhaps 40 years ago. All of the circumstances of its origin, and a good deal more about each of these stories, may be found in LB's foreword. But, if you don't care, you can just skip it and go straight to the stories themselves.

A cracking collection of short stories/novellas from Lawrence Block. All but one of the pieces were new to me, which is hardly surprising since the entertaining author introduction recounts "losing" and refinding a couple of them. I've enjoyed Resume Speed, the title piece before and it hasn't lost any of its power in a second visit.

Introduction .... informative, entertaining, the opposite of boring and apparently about 3300 words long

Hard Sell ...... one death, two deaths, three deaths, four - and a panicking magazine owner pleading to our hard drinking lawyer to find out who is killing his men and trying to ruin him.

Dead to the World ..... a woman, a marriage, a death, a widow..... repeat

Whatever it Takes ....... cops seek an informer to turn evidence, who cracks first - the potential witness, the target, the cop

I Know How to Pick 'Em ..... a bar, one woman, two men, pick one. The wrong one.

Autumn at the Automat ...... a woman practices her loved one's teachings at a diner

Gym Rat ...... two guys, one with a proposition

Resume Speed .... a stranger comes to town, makes a life and leaves abruptly

I'm hard pushed to pick a favourite. Three standout for me in particular - Autumn at the Automat, which I think one Mr Block an Edgar for best short story, Gym Rat and Resume Speed.

I think what's quite unusual is that in every collection or anthology of stories there's always one or two that pass me by where I'm scratching my head. Here that's not the case. 

Bars, diners, short order cooks, customers, widows, wannabe widows, wannabe widowers, drink, pills, sex - exciting, incestuous, calculating, fatal, memory loss, bereavement, plans, a con, debt, gambling, unhappy marriages, death and more

None of the stories seem rushed or hurried, all unfold at a leisurely pace. All have a decent payoff - except for the last which haunts me and leaves me wondering if only or why.

Great writing, great attention to detail, interesting characters with different agendas and motivations. Highly recommended.

5 from 5

Smooth narration as per usual from Theo Holland.

Read - (listened to) January, 2020
Published - 2018
Page count - 176 (4 hrs 56 mins)
Source - Audible download code received from author's assistant
Format - Audible

* Resume Speed was also released by Lawrence Block as a standalone and enjoyed previously in 2016

A man on a bus disembarks before his ticketed stop and constructs a new life for himself in Cross Creek. Bill, our man gets a job, finds lodgings and settles into a routine. He's cautious, he's wary of possibly being followed or being the subject of unwanted curiosity. He makes friends with his boss at the diner, who likes his ideas and his reliability. Bill seems to settle. There is a growing friendship with the divorced librarian. Dinner soon followed by sleepovers. He buys a car, he discusses an offer to buy the diner and he's making plans for a future in the town.

If this was a fairy tale, they'd all live happily ever after, but this is Lawrence Block. Bill has his secrets; secrets that not even he fully knows, but he has his suspicions......

Superb in every way..... character, setting, pacing, an ever increasing tension infused with hints of paranoia. As soon as it finished, I was half tempted to start it over again. Genius Block.

5 from 5

I've read Lawrence Block many time before. I only wished I had discovered him ten years earlier than I eventually did!

Read in December,
Published - 2016
Page count - 97
Source - Kindle Unlimited
Format - Kindle


  1. Block's as good at short stories as he is at novels, isn't he, Col? And, as prolific as he is, there's always something new to discover, and that's even better. Glad you enjoyed this collection.

    1. Thanks Margot - I have to agree - novels, shorts and non-fiction - all pretty excellent!