After reviewing I, ALEX CROSS last week, Barry is back today with his review of Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block. Make sure you check out the full list over at Patti’s blog.
GRIFTER’S GAME, a.k.a. MONA (1961) by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
It’s a short novel, so I want to give very little away lest I spoil a fast, entertaining nibble of noirishment by an always-reliable author. It’s narrated by a grifter named Joe Marlin who, when the story opens, has to get out of Philadelphia because the con he tried to pull off fell through and he hasn’t enough money to pay his expensive hotel bill. Thus he takes the train to Atlantic City and steals some monogrammed luggage from the railway station there so he can check into a respectable hotel.
Shortly thereafter, he meets and spends time on the beach with a beautiful young blonde named Mona, who admits she is married to a much older businessman whom she finds “fat and he’s ugly. Also stupid. Also revolting.” When Marlin asks her why she married him, she says he’s “Very very very rich.”
After Marlin returns to his hotel room, he unpacks the suitcases he stole and makes a stunning discovery, one that could be either remunerative or lethal. When he and Mona reconnect (to put it euphemistically) on the beach, both seem to realize that mutual lust has turned into something mutually deeper—even after Marlin realizes who the monogram belongs to and what it could potentially mean for him—and apart from the fact that both agree the monogram’s owner must be eliminated.
The e-book edition of Grifter’s Game which I read features a new afterword by Lawrence Block, the opening paragraph of which says, “This turned out to be the first book published under my own name, although I assumed it would be pseudonymous soft-core porn when I started it. A couple of chapters in I decided that this book might be a cut above what I’d been writing, so I wrote it as a crime novel with the hope it might work for Gold Medal Books. They were the first house to see it, and Knox Burger bought it.”
Thus the beginning of the deservedly multi-award-winning career of an outstanding writer. See my opening sentence for a recommendation of this particular work. Or ignore it and just read the book.
©2016 Barry Ergang