Wednesday 17 March 2021




From the author:

This is the third novel Donald E. Westlake and I did in collaboration, SIN HELLCAT, and I think it may have been the best of the three—but we didn't get to put a joint byline on it. Well, we did—but someone at Nightstand felt free to change it, dropping Alan Marshall from the "by Alan Marshall and Andrew Shaw" byline we'd supplied. Much the same thing happened to CIRCLE OF SINNERS, my collaboration for Nightstand with Hal Dresner; "By Andrew Shaw and Don Holliday" is what we tagged it, and this time it was Andrew Shaw who got bumped.

Well, it's corrected now. SIN HELLCAT, like its fellows, has both names on the cover. And our names, not the ones we donned for our work in the world of paperback erotica.

When the two of us were starting out as writers, we both served an apprenticeship writing erotic novels for Harry Shorten at Midwood Books and Bill Hamling at Nightstand. (I was Sheldon Lord for Midwood and Andrew Shaw for Nightstand, while Don was Alan Marshall for both publishers. Note though that the presence of either name upon a book is no guarantee that one of us wrote it. Both of us made arrangements whereby lesser writers would submit works under our names—and I know it's hard to believe that any writers were less than we were back then, but it's true.)

Well. We'd become friends in the summer of 1959, while we were living a few blocks away from each other in midtown Manhattan. I was at the Hotel Rio, on West 47th between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, and Don was a block south and several blocks west of me. Then I moved back to my parents' house in Buffalo, and Don and his wife and kid moved to Canarsie, and we wrote letters back and forth.

And at one point we decided it might be fun to do a novel together. Not by thinking it out and talking through it and, you know, collaborating in a serious artistic manner. Our method was simpler. One of us would write a chapter, and then the other would write a chapter to come after it, and back and forth, like that, until we had a book.

It worked, and by God it was fun. The first of our efforts was A GIRL CALLED HONEY, and it started when I wrote a chapter and sent it to Don. And so on, and we stopped when we had a book and sent it to Henry Morrison who sent it to Harry Shorten. We put both our names on the book, our pen names that is to say, and that's how Harry published it: by Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall. And he included our dedication: "To Don Westlake and Larry Block, who introduced us."

It was so much fun that we did it again. This time Don wrote the first chapter, and I wrote the second. Was I still in Buffalo, and did we still send the chapters through the mail? Damned if I can remember. I think I may have been in New York by then, living with my first wife on West 69th Street. But maybe not, and what does it matter? We finished the book, we sent it in, Midwood published it, and we shared the advance, which was probably $600 for A GIRL CALLED HONEY, but may have escalated to $750 by the time we did SO WILLING. So each of us wound up with either $300 or $375 for our trouble, and that's not a lot of money nowadays, and it wasn't a lot of money in 1960 either, but neither was it a lot of trouble.

Damn, those were good days.

Never mind. Here's SIN HELLCAT—and if reading it brings you a small fraction of the fun we had writing it, you'll be back right away to scoop up A GIRL CALLED HONEY and SO WILLING.

I quite enjoy visiting Lawrence Block's early books. I think the intro-back story to the books entertain me even before I've delved into the book itself. And if it's Audible and Theo Holland narrating.... well Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Here there's a collaboration between Block and Donald E. Westlake from back before I was even born.

Man and woman, a boring, frustrating marriage - she's frigid and scared of sex, so he eventually hooks up with an old girlfriend in the big city where she works as a prostitute. Before too long he's involved in a smuggling operation to South America. The end.

No, obviously it's a little bit more fleshed out than that. We have some college days, and work days, and courtship and marriage days after a hilarious honeymoon, and before it all goes wrong. Well it was probably wrong from the start, our main man just hadn't recognised it or admitted it to himself. 

Things get a little bit more exciting after that..... smuggling, bonding, a burgeoning relationship and a proposition with an outcome, which you kind of think might lead to a happy ever after scenario for the main characters in this little drama. 

The thing with Block (and here Westlake as well) is that even when not much is happening I'm never really bored. I've more experience reading Block, but he could keep me on the edge of my seat with his shopping list. 

Best book ever? No, far from it. But it did exactly what it was supposed to do...... entertained and amused and while I was listening to it, some otherwise drab and dreary commuting, work and/or exercise time went just that little bit more swimmingly.

3 from 5

Read - (listened to) January, 2021
Published - 1962
Page count - 182 (4 hrs 41 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible


  1. The story of this collaboration really is interesting, Col. Block has had a such a fascinating career, and I'm sure he's got lots of good stories to tell about it; I like hearing them. If I'm being honest, I'm not sure the book's for me, but that background is great - thanks for sharing it.

    1. I can understand that Margot. I think a lot of his early books were aimed more at a niche, em gentleman's market.

  2. Great introduction. Those two authors writing together sounds perfect.

    1. I would have liked to have seen a colloboration from them later in their careers.