There seems to be a break in the rain, or I can’t see it from my spot here in the den. Doubtless there’s plenty more to come — an intersection a few blocks from here is closed, but so far, so good here.
I decided to while away the gray afternoon by reading one of my birthday presents, Lawrence Block’s latest, The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes. It’s a short novel, about the length of an old Fawcett Gold Medal original. The content, meanwhile, is… stiffer than those, as is some of the anatomy described therein.
The set-up is straightforward enough. Doak Miller is a retired New York cop who moved to Florida. He has a friends-with-benefits arrangement with a local realtor and occasionally helps out the local sheriff. When the sheriff asks Doak to pose as a hit man to be hired by a rich man’s wife, complications ensue.
The situation is archetypal noir, a point Block acknowledges in the story’s background on several occasions — even approaching meta-levels at times. This doesn’t mean the work is predictable; to the contrary, at one point Block pulls off a brilliant reversal, and although he set it up fairly, it still left me smiling and acknowledging that the master had run it right past me. But still, the solidity of the structure allows Block to explore the characters, and the character of Doak Miller is terrific — engaging, then chilling, then horrifying, with a progression so gradual that the reader squirms at his own complicity in caring for the character.
The book is also chock-full of sex. Block reports that his agent described it as “James M. Cain on Viagra.” Yeah, that’s about right, but it’s a whole bunch of Viagra. But it isn’t gratuitous — it’s plot-driven, and more importantly, character-driven.
The book’s final act ties all the plot threads together, and ends it in a way that is true to the characters and resonates after the book is closed.
To call The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes a professional work sounds like faint praise, but it isn’t. The book is, more accurately, a gifted craftsman doing tremendous work at a point in his career where he could just as easily coast. That he hasn’t done so is testament to his artistic integrity, and a gift to us, the reading public.
With luck, I’ll get my copy autographed later this week.