Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lawrence Block - The Naked and the Deadly

So far I've enjoyed everything I've read by Lawrence Block, so when I saw his collection One Night Stands and Lost Weekends at the bookstore several years ago there was no hesitation on my part for slapping my money down. I've always been a big fan of mid-century crime fiction, but had yet to read Block's short stories from that period. Stories that originally appeared in magazines like Manhunt. Manhunt is one of those magazines that had to have been a real treat for crime fiction fans. I never seem to find old copies of it in the used stores, the way one can with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I've got only one issue of Manhunt in my possession, and I found it in a library book sale of all places.

"The Naked and the Deadly" is a novelette featuring private eye Ed London. The case is one of those where the gorgeous doll walks into the P.I.'s office (in this case, Ed London's apartment) and offers him a job that seems way too sketchy for a wise man to get caught up in. In this case, London is hired to pay off a blackmailer whose been putting the screws to our mysterious babe, Rhona Blake. Ms. Blake insists that one payoff to the blackmailer will be sufficient. To sweeten the deal, she pays London two grand, and a roll in the hay. It must be stories like this that had all kinds of book geeks signing up for criminology correspondence courses back in the day. London is a smooth operator. He drinks cognac and smokes a pipe. He can also smell bullshit, even when it's handed to him smothered in expensive perfume. He takes the job, shows up at the agreed upon payoff joint, and takes a ride with the blackmailer into a shootout. Barely escaping with his life, London returns home to his apartment, with the payoff loot, his retainer, and a whole lot of questions for his client, Ms. Rhona Blake. The next morning, London gets a visit from a sleazy lawyer offering him 10 grand to find a client's wayward daughter. The lawyer shows London a picture of the daughter, Rhona Blake, as if you didn't already know that was coming. When London refuses to take the job, the lawyer leaves him with one of those thinly veiled threats that suggests more trouble for London.

"The Naked and the Deadly" first appeared in the October 1962 issue of Man's Magazine. I liked reading it, even though I sort of knew where it was going, having read tons of crime stories with sketchy babes who fall way too easily into the detectives's beds. But that doesn't make these stories any less fun.

I was able find a picture of the the October '62 issue of Man's Magazine online. It's got a cool cover depicting John Glenn as a fighter pilot. Also it features a story about wife swapping. Hmmm...I didn't think that really took off until the 70's, but what the hell do I know anyway. It's kind of sad, knowing that I can't swing down to the nearest drugstore and find magazines like this anymore on the racks.

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