Short story collections, even by the best authors, can range from crap to greatness. Sometimes, such collections are ego-driven collections of stuff no one would ever publish. Sometimes they are collections of an author's early work. Once in a while, a well-known author actually publishes a collection of short stories that is the literary equivalent of hitting it out of the ballpark. With Catch and Release, Lawrence Block's latest short story collection, published in 2013, he has, indeed, launched a ball so high, so far, so deep, that I can fully recommend it for your reading enjoyment.
I have listened to the audio version of Catch and Release and the credits indicate that it was written and read by Lawrence Block. Often, with an audio version, you wonder if the reader will be able to capture the writer's nuances and expressions. Here, you get it as the author intended for better or worse. The other thing to note about listening to the audio version is that the design is such that you listen to each and every word. With the audio, there is no skimming through the background stuff to get to the down and dirty action. It takes longer to listen to a book than to read it, but you get it all, not just the good parts.
The collection opens with "A Burglar's View of Greed," a short, funny intro featuring Bernie the gentleman burglar, who is a recurring character in Blocks' Bernie Rhodenbarr series. It is a light, humorous, intellectual series about a burglar, the latest book of which is 2013's The Burglar Who Counted Spoons.
A Chance To Get Even is a poker game in an apartment in New York City. At first, I pictured Felix and Oscar getting together with their buddies for a game. The game slowly winds down to two players, with one offering the other a chance to up his stake with the wife of one of the players being thrown in the pot for good measure. A great opening to the collection and includes greed, lust, and getting even.
A Vision In White is another gem and is a story about tennis players and obsession. Even if you think you heard a similar story before, you haven't. Makes you wonder why Block didn't publish more short stories over the course of his career.
Catch And Release is, of course, the title story for this volume and, as such, is worthy of a review entirely of its own. Jim Morrison once explained that, The hitchhiker stood by the side of the road and leveled his thumb in the calm, cool, calculus of reason. This book about the joys of hitchhiking and the joys of flyfishing is just terrific. It is told in such a routine, matter-of-fact yarn-spinning manner that it almost deceptive in the twisted sickness found in the narrator himself. He is a loner who likes to pick up hitchhikers, especially young, cute hitchhikers in short cut-offs and scooping tops. He does offer sage advice to the young lady he drops off at her parents' home, explaining that he is a catch-and-release fisherman, but not everybody is a catch-and-release fisherman. She has no clue what he is talking about, but any reader of dark mysteries and noir literature does. Sometimes a fish is allowed to wriggle off the line and flop back into the water. Often, they do not know how lucky they are.
Clean Slate is a lengthy novella-type story from the Kit Tolliver collection. Block also offers it separately as a single. If you like this (and warning: not everyone will), I suggest you run out and grab whatever copy is remaining of "Getting Off," Block's full-length book featuring all of his Kit Tolliver stories. I highly recommend it. "Clean Slate" offers a real peek at Kit Tolliver's background and gives the reader an understanding of how she set out on her path, criss-crossing America and donning different identities in different cities. Kit is a knockout. She has a list and, yes, she is checking it twice. She has a list of men who could sit around a campfire and brag about how they had her. She is going to do something about that list, something about whittling that list down. Kit is no angel. She engages in all kinds of conduct, not all of which is legal. Somehow, Block has crafted this story which includes all kinds of violence and matricide and identity theft and makes the reader want to follow along.
Dolly's Trash And Treasures is told in basically a conversational tone, meaning a lot of the story is developed in conversations between the characters rather than direct action. As the reader delves into the tail, it may be no surprise where this story goes, but it is quite a journey to get there through the piles of junk and crap in Dolly's home.
How Far is a one-act play that includes a conversation between a man and a woman. I typically don't like to read plays. This one is an exception to that rule. It is just a conversation between two people. The woman's relationship has ended and there are consequences to the breakup, including monetary demands that she doesn't know how to deal with. Another great selection.
One Last Night at Grogan's is the story of the ending of an Irish Bar, one of the last survivors in the meatpacking district.
The collection is rounded out with the following: Part of The Job, Scenarios, See The Woman, Speaking Of Greed, Speaking Of Lust, Welcome to the Real World, Who Knows Where It Goes, Without A Body. I found all of these to be top-notch stories with a special mention going out to Speaking of Greed and Speaking of Lust, bawdy tales of sex, violence, avarice, love, and betrayal, told by a doctor, a policeman, a priest, and an elderly man while sitting around after a poker game.
WARNING: this collection is for mature audiences only as it contains sexual situations, violence, cruelty, and cuss words.
Do I need to conclude by explaining that I think this is a fantastic, mind-blowingly good collection that it is well worth your time. Scratch under the surface of our society and it is not all clean and neat and ordered. This is greed, lust, larceny, and revenge percolating out there. I can't say enough good things about this collection. Enjoy!