Saturday 25 April 2015



An MWA Grand Master tells it straight:
Fredric Brown: “When I read Murder Can Be Fun, I had a bottle of bourbon on the table and every time Brown’s hero took a drink, I had a snort myself. This is a hazardous undertaking when in the company of Brown’s characters, and, I’ve been given to understand, would have been just as dangerous around the author himself. By the time the book was finished, so was I.”

Raymond Chandler: “You have to wonder how he got it so right. He spent a lot of time in the house—working, reading, writing letters. He saw to his wife, who required a lot of attention in her later years. And when he did get out, you wouldn’t find him walking the mean streets. La Jolla, it must be noted, was never much for mean streets.”

Evan Hunter: “In his mid-seventies, after a couple of heart attacks, an aneurysm, and a siege of cancer that had led to the removal of his larynx, Evan wrote Alice in Jeopardy. And went to work right away on Becca in Jeopardy, with every intention of working his way through the alphabet. Don’t you love it? Here’s a man with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and he’s perfectly comfortable launching a twenty-six book series.”

Donald E. Westlake’s Memory: “Here’s the point: Don’s manuscript arrived, and we had dinner and put the kid to bed, and I started reading. And my wife went to bed, and I stayed up reading, and after a while I forgot I was having a heart attack, and just kept reading until I finished the book around dawn. And somewhere along the way I became aware that my friend Don, who’d written a couple of mysteries and some science fiction and his fair share of soft-core erotica, had just produced a great novel.”

Charles Willeford: “Can a self-diagnosed sociopath be at the same time an intensely moral person? Can one be a sociopath, virtually unaware of socially prescribed morality, and yet be consumed with the desire to do the right thing? That strikes me as a spot-on description of just about every character Willeford ever wrote. How could he come up with characters like that? My God, how could he help it?”

An MWA Grand Master and a multiple winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Maltese Falcon awards, Lawrence Block’s reflections and observations come from over a half century as a writer of bestselling crime fiction. Several of his novels have been filmed, most recently A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson.

While he’s best known for his novels and short fiction, along with his books on the craft of writing, that's not all he’s written. THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES collects his observations and personal reminiscences of the crime fiction field and some of its leading practitioners. He has a lot to say, and he says it here in convincing and entertaining fashion.

My first non-fiction read of the year and a book about other books, or more specifically authors that Lawrence Block has written introductions for. There’s a brief chapter on maybe 20 people most of whom are familiar to me, but a couple of names that are new to me – Henry Kane and Spider Robinson. Mr Block’s introductions for each book are reproduced.

The chapters on the authors I have read and enjoyed were most interesting for me, especially when they were contemporaries of Block and he includes anecdotes about meetings in bars and lunches and writer events.

Lunch with Charles Willeford is described, with some curious questions thrown into the conversation by Willeford. Cue discussion on hemorrhoids and the eating of cat. Block discusses his writing and the success that arrived towards the end of his life and the feelings of loss and sadness at hearing of Willeford’s passing.

So in that sense the news was not unexpected. But it was shocking all the same; when one meets with so clear and distinct a voice, one expects it to be around forever.

Block discusses his start in the business in the late 50’s working as an Associate Editor at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. Work which seems to be little more than a con – writers sending in their work to be assessed at $5 a pop. He meets Donald Westlake here, which is the start of a friendship that stands more than 50 years.

What’s apparent about Block is the warmth he has for the writers he regards as his friends.

This was a really enjoyable and interesting read. I liked the stories and the anecdotes and the snippets of gossip that permeate every page and the hat-tips towards a few author and books that may have escaped my attention thus far. Thankfully there weren’t too many added to the list, probably because I have most of them already!

A snapshot of authors covered….Ross Thomas, Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, Jim Thompson, Al Nussbaum, Evan Hunter/Ed McBain, Gar Anthony Haywood. There’s more, but these were the ones that most interested me.

I think if Lawrence Block wrote a telephone directory, I would be entertained reading it.

5 from 5

I received my review copy courtesy of an invitation from the author himself. (Probably one of his assistants, but I can delude myself thinking Larry Block e-mailed me!)


  1. I probably would be too, Col. This sounds like a great look behind the scenes so to speak. And lots of great writers too. I need to look out for this one.

  2. I saw this one when you put it on Goodreads, and it sounds very interesting. I think anything Lawrence Block writes is entertaining (as you say).

    1. Agreed Tracy. I like books about other books as well.

  3. This sounds great, and as if it would be a good guide to some of the authors I am less familiar with. The excerpts really entertained me.

    1. Books about books/authors definitely appeal to me and I was scribbling notes of titles and people to check out as I read it. Fortunately - most of the authors covered I have a good smattering of books from, so the list didn't grow as much as it might have.
      Stories about lunches and correspondence and meetings, also worked for me. I do like a bit of gossip!

  4. Col, I'm going to hunt down a copy. I definitely want to read it as I'm not familiar with even some of the famous crime writers. Block's introductions would be a treat.