Fans impatient for the latest from prolific Block (The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, 2015, etc.) will rejoice at the rediscovery of his very first novel, first published in 1968, eight years after he finished writing it, as Savage Lover.
Both titles fit the story as snugly as the shell of a hard-boiled egg. Danbury, Connecticut, insurance salesman Donald Barshter slugs his wife, Ellen, the wrong way during one of their periodic domestic tiffs, and she doesn’t get up. After briefly entertaining the idea of phoning the police, Don decides instead to stuff the body into a closet all weekend till he can tap his bank account Monday morning and then head for Buffalo—big enough to get lost in, small enough to keep from running into anyone likely to recognize him. Once ensconced in the Malmsly Hotel, he studiously adopts the role of Nathaniel Crowley, the new tough guy in town, picking a fight with a hapless local, paying an available chambermaid for sex, and cultivating the friendship of Tony Quince, a barfly whose interest in him sends him to Lou Baron, who pretty much runs things in Buffalo. Baron offers Crowley a job tending bar at Round Seven, where it’s understood that half his earnings will come from robbing the till. So far, so peaceful, but hardly has Crowley settled into his sinecure, following evenings at Round Seven with nights under the covers with game blonde Anne Bishop as he gradually becomes the hard case he pretended to be, than an unwelcome complication arises. Baron, Quince informs Crowley, is on his way out, and Crowley must pick whose side to take in the coming blood bath: the old boss who got him started or the competitor who’s tipped him off.
Block telegraphs every single plot twist shortly before it arrives, and the results are pulpy, ritualistic, and satisfying—a guilty pleasure packed into a time capsule from 1960.