An alternate title could have been “Drugs Are Bad” or “Hasty Decisions are not Recommended”. While they’re not as eye catching or as hip as “A Diet of Treacle”, they still sum up the story pretty accurately.
Joe and Shank have a strange living arrangement. Sharing an apartment in the West Village, Shank supports Joe financially by peddling pot to a steady stream of customers. Both are subscribers to the hip lifestyle of the 60s, meaning that they’re not interested in getting a nine to five pencil pushing desk job, instead opting to wax philosophical about life and ridicule the squares that live uptown. All things considered, they had a good thing going until Joe decides to pick up an attractive woman, Anita, on a bet.
While there’s no immediate connection at first, Joe bumps into Anita later on and is shocked to discover that she wants to move in with him. Not really knowing how to take this, Joe tries to push her away, insisting that she’s simply not built for his lifestyle. When she fails to yield her offer, the two end up between the sheets and a domestic relationship follows. While Shank initially insists he’s OK with his new roommate, a darker side has recently begun brewing deep inside him and is threatening to come to the surface.
I never understood Anita’s rationale for moving in with Joe. While it’s made known that she’s uninterested in the whole getting married, having kids and living the life of financially secure housewife, her quick decision to jump into bed with this guy she barely knows – yes, I’m aware that one night stands are a thing – then wanting to live in his rundown, disgusting apartment (roaches literally crawling across the floor) was a bit of stretch considering her upbringing and stance on drug culture. It was too much of a 180, even for someone wanting to dramatically shake up their life.
Shank’s change in attitude, while gradual, did seem rushed, if that makes sense. There are glimmers of violent tendencies early on when he speaks about the power his switchblade carries, how it drops women’s inhibitions, even hinting that he may take some by force. However, there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s a psychopath. It probably didn’t help that he shared a room with Joe and Anita dancing the horizontal mambo. In his twisted world view, Anita was insatiable and it was his turn whether she liked it or not. Whether his progression is rushed or not, Shank’s truly a horrific monster that Block tries his damnedest to make sure the reader doesn’t forget.
It’s worth noting that there’s some strong writing here – as if I have to tell you that when it’s a Lawrence Block novel. Joe’s musings about life and his distaste for dropping into the system, becoming a cog in the great wheel of society, were easy to identify with. He almost felt like a more focused, older and wiser Holden Caulfield. I would have probably enjoyed a whole book written in that style alone, tossing out the crime elements that were mixed in.
I’m not sure if this one will stick with me as strongly as my first Block Hardcase Crime book, Grifter’s Game, but it’s a short read that you could most likely blast through in one sitting.