Thursday, June 21, 2012

Listened: "The Specialists" by Lawrence Block

Listened: The Specialists by Lawrence Block, 1969 (2011 audio by AudioGo).

Quick read.  Was there a point in Block's career where he was getting published but his work was kinda lousy?  I have not run across any books that are.

Eddie Manso is spending time with a hooker in Las Vegas.  The hooker is not a girlfriend but they are good buddies.  Hooker comes around to complain about a mobster who threatened her.  Manso gets info about the Mobster and finds out the guy owns a bank, the bank was robbed, Mobster collected the insurance.  Hmmm.

Manso is a gambler.  Manso used to be in the U.S. Army.  Manso does more than gamble.  Manso is more than a former soldier.  Manso's gambling is more like a hobby.  Manso used to be in the Special Forces and served in Laos.  On occasion Manso sets aside his gambling work to answer the call of his former Special Forces Colonel in Tarrytown, NY.  Manso and his former Special Forces comrades join together on those occasions and specialize in robbing crooks.

Manso brings the opportunity to the Colonel.  The Colonel is wheelchair bound from a war injury but is still a fine planner.  Manso and four other guys (whose names I do not recall because I rarely recall character names when listening to novels) get together to pull a heist of one Mobster's banks.  You know it's a heist because this is a heist novel.  

Block-like introduction to various characters.  Characters have character.  Characters have different ways of thinking and feeling.  Block draws out emotions and behaviors in a short amount of space using different activities and events to illustrate the characters.  There must be a literary name for this.  Maybe it is called the Blockensian Method.

Part of the robbery planning involves one guy pretending to be an unknown, illegitimate son of the Mobster so can get inside the Mobster's home and grounds.  Another guy woos a bank clerk for inside information.  Inside Guy is found out when he won't bone the Mobster's wife and she tells on him.  The heist goes on with one man short.  The bank clerk returns early to the bank and sees Wooer.  Bank Clerk kidnapped.  Inside Man rescued and various mobsters, Mobster, and Mobster's Wife are murdered.

Wooer has to decide whether to kill Bank Clerk or continue to pitch woo since she is a witness.  Wooer travels with Bank Clerk to the Caribbean.  bank Clerk has left her young children and her own parents.  They can only assume she was murdered and secretly buried by the bank robbers.  Bank Clerk does not care, she is having fun.

1.  The army guys do specialize in robbing "bad guys" but they are doing robberies with innocent people all around.  The army guys will use violence against anyone who gets in their way.  During the botched getaway they say that if a cop pulls them over they'll have to kill the cop.  Wooer and Colonel talk shortly after the heist about what to do with Bank Clerk and Wooer at first is adament against not killing her.  Wooer changes his mind when faced with having to marry someone.
2.a.  A take on racial identity and politics.  One army guy is black.  Discussion about his status as an Army officer and what it means to be black, follow black vs. white culture, how soul food is lousy and leftovers from black people had the worst things to eat.
2.b.  Kinda like lutefisk.  John Kieraldo (B.A. Scandinavian Studies) mentioned to me how lutefisk is peasant food.  It's the gross stuff that was left voer at the end of winter so everyone did not starve.  And yet people eat it for holidays and special events and treat it as something special.
2.c.  Anyway, Block can write anything and it seems to make sense.  How accurate would this view have been among middle-class black family's in 1969?  Answer:  It all depends.
3.  Very good narrator, Fred Sullivan, who does well with Block books.  Sullivan brings out a lot of humor.
4.  Let me use this last note as an opportunity to suck up a little more.  Mr. Block, you are so handsome and intelligent and witty and skilled and virile.

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