cover image Catch and Release: 
Stories by Lawrence Block

Catch and Release: Stories by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block. Hard Case-Subterranean, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59606-571-0

Crime writer Lawrence Block, who turns 75 this year, is beyond a legend and practically a force of nature at this point in his career. You might expect this collection of relatively new material to come in on the nostalgic side, to be attenuated due to the master’s age, to present as a lagniappe to a successful career. Instead, Block’s latest collection will scare the hell out of you, turn your perception inside out, and generally provide the same thrill ride of expert characterization and twisted expectation as the best of Block has always done.The collection’s strongest entry, the insidiously creepy “A Vision in White,” lulls us with a neat précis of the mentality of the common straight man watching women’s tennis, trying to appreciate the sport while mentally dealing in a semireasonable fashion with the titillation of exposed legs, curving torsos, and very short dresses. And as reason slowly crumbles in the narrator, down we go with him into a sinkhole of depravity. When realization sinks into our bones (and other nether regions) that “somewhere inside I am this guy,” we must shudder at how easily we were led astray. In the title story, we meet a serial killer who has adopted the Zen-like fisherman’s wisdom of Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton’s The Compleat Angler. Except, that is, when he doesn’t particularly feel like it. Until the final sentence, we wonder, as he does, whether the present catch will be a “keeper.” And in a strong pair of longer tales dealing with the themes of greed and lust, a priest, a doctor, a soldier, and a policeman, all archetypically gritty and authentic old men who play poker together, share anecdotes of depravity, perversion, heroism gutted by hubris, and evil punished by receiving its long-sought reward. Fans will be glad to see the appearance of Matthew Scudder, Block’s AA-attending, world-weary series PI from A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011) and many others, in two stories. The collection is packed with Block’s boundless selection of societal miscreants, sociopaths, anger-management dropouts, stone cold killers, and seemingly normal people who discover a particular scab on their psyches they can’t or won’t stop picking. Like the protagonist of “Catch and Release,” Block’s fishing tactics are honed to perfection. Bait the hook with an air of normalcy. Lull the reader with the sense that this one will be easy takings. Make the bait wriggle with a telling detail or two. The strike. The yank. The set. And there we are, on the hook of a Block tale once again. If Block were a serial killer instead of one of the best storytellers of our time, we’d be in real trouble. Instead, we are in for the tremor of dreadful delight in that moment of frisson and identification that great crime writing provides: the knowledge that, given slightly different circumstances, we might easily be one of these desperados of existence. Or, even more frightening, that our own lives might be as depraved in their own way as one of Block’s portraits of diverting degeneracy, and we might be glimpsing a darkness dug into our own hearts. Tony Daniel, an editor at Baen Books, is the author of Metaplanetary and six other science fiction novels.