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.
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.