Sinner Man tells the story of small town insurance-peddler Don Barshter, and how after a few too many drinks, inadvertently murders his wife following an errant strike. Rather than call the police and turn himself in, Don decides to cram his wife’s body into a closet and flee town. It’s during his aimless travels that Don forms a plan – get to Buffalo and join the mob under a new identity. Now known as Nat Crowley, he quickly begins a career in organized crime and subsequently hooks up with a woman who may be more dangerous than she first lets on.
Nat Crowley, while trying his best to frame himself in a positive light, is a despicable, layered character – as all great noir protagonists are. Barshter suffers from the “smartest man in the room” syndrome where his own arrogance and self-perceived intelligence blinds him. How can you blame him? His ramshackle, cartoonish plan actually unfolds as he envisioned but when ripples begin to show, he ignores them thinking he’s infallible. So while it appears at the beginning he’s done a serviceable job replacing the spineless Don Barshter with the cold, callous Nat Crowley, he realizes too late that like leopards, you can’t change your spots (sorry for the overdone expression) and despite his best efforts, history threatens to repeat itself before all is said and done.
Identified as Block’s first ever crime novel, Sinner Man is ripe with noir excellence. You’ve got all the hallmarks of the genre; tough-talking baddies, femme fatales, a plethora of murders and steamy sex scenes. For fans of Hard Case Crime, this is an easy sell – Sinner Man lives up to their publishing standards revealing itself as a hidden gem from Lawrence Block’s vast catalogue of work.