Catch and Release Hardcover – 30 Sep 2013
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About the Author
Lawrence Block, proclaimed a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, has been writing award-winning mystery and suspense fiction for half a century. His most recent novels are Hit Me, featuring Keller, and A Drop of the Hard Stuff, featuring Matthew Scudder, who will be played by Liam Neeson in the forthcoming film, A Walk Among the Tombstones. Several of his other books have been filmed, although not terribly well. He's well known for his books for writers, including the classic Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, and The Liar's Bible. In addition to prose works, he has written episodic television (Tilt!) and the Wong Kar-wai film, My Blueberry Nights. He is a modest and humble fellow, although you would never guess as much from this biographical note. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Bloody, tense, unforgiving, fascinating and a reminder that when the story needs it, Block has a vast array of sharp edges at his disposal and he's not afraid to use them.
I almost want this to be a fully realized novel. But maybe I don't. It's so perfect as it is, I just have no idea what could make it better. I know that when it ends, you wish it hadn't ended.
Read Catch & Release. You probably won't find a better more original story in this vein in any format this year.
The book opens with "A Burglar's-Eye View of Greed" where the narrator goes to see his favorite bookseller, Bernie Rhodenbarr. Fortunately for Bernie he doesn't have to sell books to survive. He very well may be the last of the gentlemen burglars.
All you want when you have had losing hands all night is "A Chance To Get Even." Richard Krale is having a bad night and wants his chance to finally settle up. Not just for the bad night of poker, but for other matters as well.
"A Vision in white" comes next and is a story that is nearly impossible to discuss at all without ruining it for the reader. As you read it, the tale should make things abundantly clear where the inspiration came from in the sports world.
The signature story of the book "Catch and Release" (previously available as a solo short story confusing some readers) follows where the water is on not at all involved except a metaphorical level. He has his methods and his fantasies in a tale that plays with the reader right to the end.
Katherine "Kit" Tolliver had a mission when she arrived in Toledo, Ohio, in "Clean Slate." Like the main character of the proceeding story, Kit has a plan to balance things out.
In what has to be the most flat out disturbing story in the book (though "Catch and Release" comes close) hoarding is just part of the issue in "Dolly's Trash and Treasure." It begins with a visit by child protective services and Mrs. Saugerties has some very strange answers.
Next is a one act play tilted "How Far." Dorothy Morgan has a problem and Billy may or may not help her. One doesn't really know until the end.
The end of the TV show the Sopranos annoyed many of us. It annoyed Mick Ballou as well. In "Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen" he ponders what was meant by that ending and more. He's doing all this thinking for a good reason.
As the years pass, the familiar often has to make way for something new. That idea is a small part of the tale "One Last Night at Grogan's." Mick Ballou, the major character of the proceeding tale, is the primary focus here as well in another good read.
Walters stole some very valuable information and Jondahl wants him stopped and the information retrieved in "Part of the Job." The history of the tale is almost as interesting and explained in the attached piece titled "The Story About The Story . . ."
Like several of the previous characters, the main character in "Scenarios" has twisted fantasies. It ends where and when it ends.
An elderly man helps with an oral history project in "See the Woman." Doing so stirs up for more than just memories.
Numerous stories within the main story is the author technique at work in the next two long stories. The backdrop is a poker game where a variety of characters from various walks of life discuss sins, philosophy, and much more in "Speaking of Greed" and "Speaking of Lust."
Routine is important to Kramer in "Welcome to the Real World." Kramer likes things the way they are and isn't ready to change. Yet a former coworker seems intent on helping Kramer change-- one way or another.
Colliard didn't really want the coffee, but, he had to do something with his hands in "Who Knows Where It Goes." Life wasn't supposed to work out this way, but it has, and the options are few.
"Without a Body" is the last story of the book and features a narrator where one isn't sure if one is dead or alive.
Explanations of the various stories and their history are provided in "Story Notes." A short author bio and ads for other books bring the book to an end.
Catch And Release: 17 Stories features characters that over their philosophy on crime, life, and more. What happens, or does not happen, in these tales is because the main character has made a conscious decision based on his or her philosophy of life and his or her role in it and the word as a whole. The tales are complicated with twists that make the reader pay attention and think. The book is also very good.
Material supplied by the author in exchange for my objective review. Print versions of the book are available from Subterranean Press and Hard Case Crime.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2013
A couple I'd read in their original appearances, but it was nice to get reacquainted. All were well written, as one would suspect from the master, and had a twist here and there with victims getting in shot here and there.
The book is available in a nice hardcover edition from Subterranean Press who do their usual handsome job as well as Hard Case Crime's trade edition and an ebook for those on that end of the reading base.
CATCH AND RELEASE shows us yet again why this is true. Here is a collection of 16 short stories; 15 of them written since 2001 and one dating all the way back to the 1960s. There is also a short play that was adapted from a 1997 short story. Individually, they are all gems. Collectively, they provide not only an enjoyable read, but also a virtual definition of noir.
But to call Block a great noir writer is to do him an injustice by limiting his incredible talent. First and foremost, Block is a great fiction writer. His writing is masterful in its ability to draw us into the story. His conversational storytelling style provides an immediacy that wallops a powerful punch at each story’s payoff. And that is important to note. Block is telling great stories here. They just also happen to be terrifying noir.
It starts in this collection with the cover art by Ken Laager, which depicts an attractive young woman in a tank top and shorts sticking her thumb out, hitching a ride. In her left hand is a handwritten sign that reads “EAST,” and her bags sit behind her left leg. Darkness seems about to envelop her.
The hitchhiker appears in the collection’s title story and indeed does snare a ride with a fellow who tells us and the girl that he is a catch and release fisherman. He says, “…it was a lot simpler if the game ended with the fish removed from the hook and slipped gently back into the water…You could make a case that a fish fighting for its life gets to be intensely alive in a way it otherwise doesn’t, but is that good or bad from the fish’s point of view?...When they swim away…I get the sense they are glad to be alive. But then I may just be trying to put myself into their position. I can’t really say what it is like for them.”
He considerately drives the woman to her destination and says to her as she leaves, “Not everyone is a catch and release fisherman…That’s probably something you ought to keep in mind.” Block writes: “She was still standing there, looking puzzled, while he put the SUV in gear and drove away.” But as relief flows over us, that is far from the end of the story.
We all --- to one degree or another --- lead typical, ordinary lives wedded to a safe routine. We might call it boring at times, but there is security in the routine. Noir reminds us that, like that hitchhiker in her pool of dim light, the darkness is closer than we think and can envelop us in a second when we least expect it. Hence the thrill of the genre: our collective sigh of relief that, as we might say about a bad dream, it was just a nightmare, only a story. Look, see, we are still okay. There is the light switch. Sure, noir reminds us, keep on thinking that.
In Block’s stories, terror and evil strike suddenly out of the blue, like summer lightning in the night sky. A sniper’s bullet finds the throat of a woman picking apples. A friendly fellow offers to help you with your bags in the supermarket parking lot. All routine. Thieves finally hit the big score and then devour each other for it. A female tennis star plays her game to the best of her ability and does not notice the man staring at her in the crowd. A hardware store owner answers the bell ringing innocently above his door. A retired man likes to practice golf but not play the game. Whores pick up the wrong johns. Bad cops partner with even worse cops. An eccentric old woman is a hoarder.
What makes these stories truly terrifying is that, after setting up the seemingly routine, Block’s violence and story twists seem to explode off the page. But the violence in his work is not gratuitous or sensational. Just a sentence or two and then leave the rest to our overheated imagination. And that is great writing.
Block keeps you turning pages. In his dark, noir world, there is often no way out. That is what noir is: no way out. Is there justice in this world? Maybe, but it’s the not-so-traditional kind they taught us about in school. Society in noir does not really matter to these characters or stories; civilization is generally just one step above the eternal jungle. In Block’s dark universe, thieves do occasionally kill thieves and rapists get trapped by their own lust. Crime may not pay. But in the meantime, it takes a horrible toll upon its victims. And, to paraphrase another great mystery writer, what does it really matter come the Big Sleep?
In CATCH AND RELEASE, Lawrence Block gives us stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat. This is an essential collection for his many fans. Few writers of any genre have been as prolific as Block over the last half-century. May he keep coming up with great fiction for years to come.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan
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!