Charles Ardai’s crime fiction label Hard Case Crime has brought pulp fans many new gifts they wouldn’t have ever received without the label, including the book I reviewed a while back, The Consummata. Now, they bring us the latest from the supposedly-retired Lawrence Block, who has had his finger on the pulse of crime fiction and erotica the past 50 years or so.
He’s back, writing under his old erotica pen-name Jill Emerson, for Getting Off, billed as a novel of sex and violence, and it certainly lives up to its billing. Focusing on Kit Tolliver, a young girl from Minnesota who bounces around the country, doing exactly what the title says. But Kit has some other pleasures that the men wouldn’t agree to if they knew what was in store for them.
The black humor and innocent demeanor of the main character allow this book to work. Masterfully written prose will save even the poorest story, but here Block uses his mastery of the form to hide the book within a lost time period, while being set in the present. If it weren’t for the mention of cell phones, or talk of calling Hell’s Kitchen it’s new moniker, Clinton, you’d never know the book was set in present day.
Dripping with classic pulp style, Getting Off is a down-and-dirty erotica murder thriller, with a vivacious, but still little-girl-lost lead character. Kit is on a mission, she has to modify her hobby, which is seducing men and then leading them down a grisly path. However, there are some that didn’t make it fully into her clutches, for one reason or another, so Kit decides to go back and correct her mistakes.
The novel deals with what led Kit to this path, and her self awareness of her own psyche is ultimately what makes her an interesting character. For their part, the men in the book are mostly background noise, constant buffoons once Kit begins to strut her stuff and decides they’re next.
The book is compulsively readable, with quick chapters that whisk by, dripping with sexual promiscuity and gory murder. Fans of the genre (or anyone drawn in by the salacious cover, really) will enjoy this violent little romp, with a character that has a lot more to offer the reader than the genre typically maintains.
If this is a sign of what Block does in retirement, and you can see the fun he had on the page, then I no longer worry about him fading into obscurity like some of the other crime writers from his era. With genre fan Ardai at the head of Hard Case Crime, you can look forward to many great reads like this that would be unavailable without the label. This is also the first Hard Case book I’ve seen in hardcover, the slick white dust jacket and slightly larger size is an immediate eye grabber. Recommended for hardcore fans of 50’s and 60’s sleaze and noir.