When an author you love has been writing for longer than you've been alive it is always fun to go back in time and read novels they penned in their younger years. Lawrence Block, one of the leading authors of pulp crime fiction, has been writing since the 1950s.
I recently reviewed one of his newer novels The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes. I found it to be an interesting and engaging read. After I finished that novel I jumped back in time to his 1958 novel Borderline.
Borderline is a true classic pulp from the 1950s. It is a story that houses the crime, sex, violence, and debauchery that would have never been allowed on the big screen, television, or radio of the day.
Borderline is a piece of fiction that takes its time to change between multiple perspectives. We are introduced to a group of five people--with no apparent connection--who have some serious problems, and serious addictions and desires, in their lives.
One woman is a recent divorcee who is looking for sexual excitement. Another is a professional gambler seeking his next big score. Another is a pair of young girls working in the Mexican sex industry. And finally, there is a serial murderer who is fleeing to Mexico.
In the beginning of the novel the only thing these characters have in common is the fact that they all happen to be in El Paso Texas at the same time. The story seems incoherent at first. Each character weaves their own personal yarn about the troubles they experience while living on the border of Mexico in El Paso.
Then, slowly throughout the tale we see each of them meet. Their worlds collide and come together until there is simply an eruption of violence and debauchery. Ultimately, each and every character in this novel pays for their indulgent sins. And it isn't a pretty sight when all is said and done.
Block is a brilliant writer, but it is obvious this was written earlier in his career. The novel is more sensational than it is engaging. It simply doesn't have the snap that Block's newer work tends to have.
At the same time Borderline is an interesting look into his writing history. The title, Borderline, is a fitting one. It speaks not only of the physical border separating America from Mexico, but is also a metaphor for the moral and criminal line in which a character has gone to far. And while all the characters begin the novel with borderline morals and behavior they ultimately cross that line into debauchery in the end.
Borderline is also an interesting look into the deep world of pulp fiction from the 1950s. The book is overloaded with sexual content, grotesque violence, and characters with no respect for life or morality. While I felt the amount of content in this particular story went a overboard, it is interesting to see what was being read by pulp fiction fans of the time.
Overall, the story and the characters were interesting. However, the plot seems a little disjointed and slow. The story seems more like a slice of life (from the crime ridden underworld of El Paso) than a specific mystery or crime story. And the main driving force of the work was in the shock and sensationalism of the sex and violence.
Borderline isn't my favorite pulp novel I've read. And if you are offended in any way by sexual content or violence I'd say this story is one to be missed. There is little redeeming quality among the characters or plot in that arena. However, if you are interested in Block's work or in the history or pulp style fiction it could well be worth the read.
The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes by the famed author Lawrence Block (best known for his novel A Walk Among the Tombstones) is a interesting take on a classic pulp trope. This novel was an interesting, enjoyable, and surprising read.
The story follows a man named Doak Miller. Doak is an ex-cop from New York City. And while he isn't officially licensed as a private eye, he does manage to do small favors, investigative work, and even legwork for the local sheriff for a little extra money.
Doak lives in small town Florida since his retirement from the force. It is here in this town where he meets Lisa. Lisa is an unhappy housewife to a rich businessmen. While Doak is supposed to be helping the police in a sting operation he instead falls in love with Lisa. And he and Lisa decide they need to kill Lisa's husband.
The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes has a nice balance of pulp, noire, and realism in it all together. The characters are interesting, even if the majority of them are despicable people. The story goes at a slow, but steady, clip. I could have been interested in a little more action, but this book was obviously more of a slow brood, a character study almost, of a normal man turned murderer.
I felt the novel, although well written and enjoyable, had a slight abundance of sexual content that was unnecessary to the plot. I also see points where Block shied away from sexual content when he could have easily played it up. However, I still felt that the main relationship between Lisa and Doak (as well as their sexual rendezvous) could have been implied, or "off screen," rather than blatantly on the page.
I also felt that the use of rape as a plot point was unnecessary. It seems that many male authors fall into the trap of using rape in their stories either as a plot point for a female character or simply to add a shock value to the story. I feel that Block could have gotten the same meaning across without the rape scene. But sexual content aside, it was ultimately the characters who carried this story--and that is what made this novel shine.
Leading up to the very end I grew anxious. I found myself quickly growing frustrated with where it seemed the story was going to end. All the foreshadowing throughout the book (mostly played out in Doak's choice of TV programming) seemed to point to one thing, and yet the story was doing another thing.
I was frustrated with it up until the very last sentence, which completely summed up the theme of the novel and the characters perfectly. This last line is what made this book amazing for me. It was a good read, with good writing that kept you going. Don't expect an action packed pulp mystery with twists and turns. But DO expect an interesting view of the "wife+lover murder husband" formula.
N.C. Patterson is a writer of mystery and horror fiction. He has been an active publicist, journalist, and blogger in the indie horror community for over five years.
Author of Horror Fiction