Compare & Contrast.

dead girl blues

“Compare and contrast.” I heard that often enough in college art history classes when a huge screen lit up with slides of some old master painting paired side by side with an impressionist, abstract or expressionist work dealing with a similar subject. “Compare and contrast,” we were instructed to do, awkwardly standing up in a packed auditorium and, in my case, terrified that I’d butcher the artists’ names when forced to say them out loud.

Compare and contrast: I’d just tucked away my copy of Ivy Pochoda’s These Women, knowing what I was in for when I pre-ordered the book and still mulling it over days later when Lawrence Block’s 2020 Dead Girl Blues came in for a pickup. Pochoda’s novel might end up mis-shelved in the mystery or thriller section in some stores, but really it’s neither, instead being a much more harrowing look at the overlooked and ignored in an all-too-familiar setup – a serial killer preying on prostitutes in South Central L.A. Pochoda’s take on this, its literary structure and wordsmithing throw down a gauntlet to challenge countless contemporary thriller writers who celebrate violence, sexualized torture and death for entertainment, her novel zeroing in not on yet another psycho killer, the law enforcement chase or voyeuristic peeks at the victims’ suffering, but instead, on the victims’ friends, parents and even the neighborhood that was the scene of the crimes.

these women

Now I’ve sung Lawrence Block’s praises here before, being one of a select group of writers I revere and who could retype an old phone directory and still sell it to me. With a career that goes back to the 1950’s, there’s a mountain of Block work to digest, so I won’t claim to have read everything he’s done. Well…yet.

Compare and contrast: Pochoda’s These Women goes after the sometimes squirm-worthy serial killer/thriller conventions with a radically different voice, points-of-view and tone that defiantly challenge readers to rethink genre tropes…and more. So, what was Lawrence Block’s intent with Dead Girl Blues, clearly a very personal and eerily unsettling book that also defies many/most genre conventions, though in a very different way? Hey, don’t ask me. All I know is he wrote one hell of a disturbing book which, in its way (and an entirely different way) also insists that the reader rethink the often icky serial killer/murder/thriller conventions. I suppose it would take someone with Block’s resume to dare to put out this book. Sure, a trendy l’enfant terrible might disingenuously try it just to snag some short-lived buzz. But Lawrence Bock has nothing to prove and no need to court trendyville.

Don’t look for shoot-outs, car chases or fetishistic sexual violence-as-entertainment. I’m not sure anything is resolved when you reach the end of the last page, but you’ll be riveted from the opening, “A man walks into a bar”, and wrongly presume that you’ve been down this road before…maybe too many times.

Oh, but you haven’t.

Block’s about to take you somewhere you don’t expect to go, following the unassuming fellow beside you at the bar, next to you in the front seat of the car, behind the store counter, across the dinner table, maybe in bed with you. Hell, he could be your coworker, your boss, your neighbor or even your lover. He might be the James Thompson you think you know, or he might just be “Buddy”, and he’s done something very, very bad. Horribly, sickeningly bad. Maybe he’ll do it again. Maybe not.

There’s not a superfluous word to be found in this novel, the wordsmithing so crisp that Joe R. Lansdale called it “prose as lean as a starving model”. It’s a relatively short work that ought to have any mystery/crime fiction reader thoroughly riveted, but more so, should compel any avid reader of the oh-so-many bestselling sex-n-violence serial killer thrillers to pause and think about what they like to read – and why. Maybe that’s what Ivy Pochoda aimed to do with These Women. Maybe it’s what Block had in mind. Maybe not. But maybe it’s something we all need to ponder when we think about our reading and viewing choices.

Ivy Pochoda’s These Women. Lawrence Block’s Dead Girl Blues. Compare and contrast? I can’t, I suppose, other than having read them back-to-back. Two radically different works from two radically different writers, yet both challenge genre tropes and conventions in their own very powerful ways. So all I can say, is read these books…read them both.

www.lawrenceblock.com

At Crime Reads: MWA Nominees On The State Of Crime Writing.

The State Of Crime Writing

Like nearly all writing and publishing events, this year’s Edgar Awards ceremony will occur online, the winners announced by the time you’re seeing this via Twitter on April 30th.

In “The State of Crime Writing In 2020: Part 1 – A Roundtable Discussion With The Nominees For The Mystery Writers Of America’s 2020 Edgar Awards”, Crime Reads gathered two dozen Edgar nominees including Karen Abbott, Maureen Callahan, John McMahon, Mo Moulton, Lara Prescott, Hank Phillippi Ryan and others for a timely roundtable. The discussion runs in two parts, the first appearing today (link below), which included a wide range of topics, such as, “Is there a kind of crime novel overdue for revival or reinvention?” and “What’s the most encouraging recent trend in crime fiction?”

The participants’ replies to “Is there a crime fiction trope you wish would be retired?” were no surprise (answers: Serial killers and the ‘Dead Girl’ trope). On the other hand, I was intrigued by some responses to “What’s the most pressing (non-pandemic) issue facing the crime fiction community today?” Some reinforced the marketplace’s need to foster diverse voices, while others pointed to more pragmatic issues, like money, the growing online piracy problem, and then a real thought-provoking remark about the over-abundance of “bad and self-published fiction”. That one alone could warrant its own roundtable discussion!

Room And Dame Howell Dodd

But don’t settle for my few comments here — follow the link below to Crime Reads to read the first half of this wide-ranging conversation with notable newcomers and genre luminaries alike, and watch for the second part in an upcoming Crime Reads edition. And enjoy the masthead’s modified Howell Dodd painting that originally appeared on a vintage ‘sexy digest’ from Quarter Books (Room And Dame by Gerald Foster) and was later re-used on the 1951 Crime Year Book, that one including “I Was Queen Of The Stag Party Strippers”. Yikes! Well, at least they located one of Dodd’s customary bad girlz holding some reading material instead of a cocktail or gun.

Crime Year Book 1951 Howell Dodd

https://crimereads.com/the-state-of-crime-writing-in-2020-part-1/

 

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