cover image SMALL TOWN


Lawrence Block, . . Morrow, $24.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-06-001190-1

This is a rare standalone from the Edgar Award–winning creator of Matt Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, hit man Keller and others, and takes a number of risks unusual for its author. For a start, it is very deliberately a post–9/11 thriller, in which a man bereaved by the loss of his wife and children in the Twin Towers sets out to wreak what he thinks of as a sacrificial vengeance on the city by becoming a serial terrorist himself. For another, Block, who wrote some pornography early in his career, has created a female character whose kinky sex antics will definitely ruffle some of his mainstream readers. And while an intimate knowledge of New York and its folkways, and of urban character and conversation, has always been one of Block's great strengths, and is on plentiful show again here, his rather improbable action climax seems carelessly tacked on to the meticulous rest of the book. The novel offers a very crowded canvas whose central characters are the sad figure of the terrorist himself; a former police commissioner who eventually sets out to bring him down; a midlist writer who suddenly gets to be a hot property when he's accused of a murder (the publishing scenes will be delightful for insiders); the aforementioned kinky lady, an art dealer when not playing pierced dominatrix; a gay recovering alcoholic who unwittingly leads the villain to the scenes of his crimes; and, of course, the city itself, which, as the title suggests, is a place where everyone is somehow connected to everyone else's business. It's a bold and flashy effort, but its deliberately disturbing elements may somewhat limit its appeal. Major ad/promo; simultaneous audio; 15-city author tour.(Jan. 21)

Forecast:With movies coming up of both Hit Man and A Walk Among the Tombstones, this will be a Block year; but it remains to be seen whether readers are ready for a 9/11–inspired terrorist killer.