Crossroads of Lust by Andrew Shaw (Lawrence Block), Midnight Reader, 1962
This Shaw is definitely penned by Lawrence Block — his style is all over it. It’s essentially a heist crime yarn, in tune with the other crime fiction he was penning for Gold Medal and Beacon at the time.
Interestingly, Crossroads of Lust, another Shaw called Lust Campus, and John Dexter’s Passion Bride, were considered obscene for sado-masochistic imagery, as found in People v. Sikora, 32 Ill. 2d 260, 267-268, 204 N. E. 2d 768, 772-773 (1965), footnoted in a 1977 Supreme Court Case, Ward v. Illinois, appealing a conviction for selling obscene materials. Justice Brennan noted in footnote 3 of his dissent:
The Illinois Supreme Court described the materials as follows, 32 Ill. 2d, at 267-268, 204 N. E. 2d, at 772-773: “`Lust Campus’ by Andrew Shaw is a story of sexual adventures on a [431 U.S. 767, 772] college campus `where even members of the faculty taught sin and evil.’ The book describes homosexuals `necking’ on a public beach; mutual masturbation; self fondling; a circle of persons engaged in oral-genital contact; rape; intercourse; lesbian intercourse; cunnilingus and flagellation; flagellation with barbed wire; an abortion with red-hot barbed wire; masturbation with a mirror reflection, and a transvestite episode. “`Passion Bride’ by John Dexter described curricular and extracurricular sexual episodes that take place during a honeymoon on the French Riviera. The book describes masturbation; intercourse; a party between an old man and three prostitutes; attempted intercourse in a bath; lesbian foreplay; flagellation; rape ending in the death of the female from a broken back and intercourse ending in the broken back of the male participant. “`Crossroads of Lust’ by Andrew Shaw describes the sexual adventures of various persons in a small town. There are numerous descriptions of intercourse; lesbian intercourse; oral-genital contact; and rape. A woman stabs a man in the course of intercourse, completing the act after he is dead. There are also three voyeurism scenes, two of which involve watching lesbian love play. The third is characterized by sadism and masochism.”
Did/does Lawrence Block know that his pen-named smut became a part of legal history, as a number of Cornith/Nightstand/Greenleaf books did?
Lynn Munroe notes that Crossroads of Lust is
a violent crime novel about an armored truck robbery. The Western movie The Sound of Far-off Tom-toms is on page 27 and, the John Dexter book No Longer a Virgin (NB1513) is mentioned by name on page 72.
Munroe has suggested that No Longer a Virgin, the first John Dexter novel, was penned by Block, or by Block and Westlake…I’ll get to that one soon…
The armored truck robbery is the catalyst plot here; this is another multi-character novel set in small Midwestern town Cedar Corners, Indiana, where there are no cedar trees. Midwest settings have been found in a number of early Lawrence Blocks, such as the Sheldon Lords April North and Older Woman, and early Andrew Shaws like High School Sex Club and his many Clifton College books.
An assortment of small town lives meet at the corssroads of the armored truck heist, but to get there, a lot of sex and planning goes on.
Martin McLeod is the main male character, a big guy, a disbarred lawyer turned criminal. He once caught his wife with aniother man and killed the man; it was a crime of passion so he only did a few years, but prison hardened him and he lost his license to practice law; now he just breaks it. An old crime buddy, Burl, has schemed the robbery and McLeod figures why not, he need some excitement in his life.
Betty Marie James is a sixteen-year-old sex-pot virgin. She also wants some excitement from her dull small town life. She is in love with McLeod, who is 38, but he wants nothing to do with jailbait.
Tough, she thought. Hard, all the way through. You could stick your boobs at McLeod and it wouldn’t move him…
“McLeod,” she said, “I want you.”
He laughed at her…
“Get out,” he said.
“McLeod — “
“Come back in a few years,” he sad. “If you live to be eighteen, come around then. Get out, jailbait.”
“I thought jalbait was what you used to cach jalbirds.”
“Out,” he said.
“So ‘m jailbait,” she said. “So I’m just a kid. There are compensations, McLeod [...] I’m firm,” she said. “Really firm.” She cupped her breasts with his hands. “firm as melons,” she said. “Isn’t that something?”
“And something else,” she said. “It comes with being young. McLeod. I’m tight.”
“More congratdulations.” (pp. 102-103)
She has been dating a guy named Luke for a year and finally consents to more than petting and bra reoval; she wants to lose her virginity, but Like gets far too excited and comes in his pants. “Virginity is a drag” she thinks (p. 46). She meets up with Jimmy, the town hot-rodder, who is notorious for having broken many girls in the back seat of his car. She lets Jimmy do that and now she knows the wonders of sex, now maybe McLeod will want her.
Jimmy also happens to be the getaway driver for the heist. She egts wind of it and uses the info to snare McLeod.
“Really tight,” she went on, smiling inside. “McLeod, I’m tight as an armored truck.”
He slapped her then [...] The slap knocked her senseless, and when he let go, she went srwaling to the floor…
“Talk,” he said.
“I came to talk. You didn’t have to hit me.”
“To blackmail me? t’ll be easier to kill you than pay you, sweetheart.”
“Not for blackmail.”
She stood up, moved toward him. This was the right kind of man, she thought. The kind you had to work for, the kind who didn’t shake in his pants just because you grinned at him.
“I told you,” she said.
He didn’t say anything.
“I said I wanted you,” she went on. (pp. 103-104)
McLeod gives in, surprised by what a hellcat she is in bed; eventually he schemes to kill the three other guys in the heist job, take all the loot, and run away to Mexico with his teenage lover.
There’s far more sex in this book than your typical Nightstand/Cornith title of the time, even more than the usual Andrew Shaw books. So did it deserve to be labeled obscene in Illinois? Here are some scenes…
A minor character is Joyce, a widow who likes it rough, even if she doth protest:
She did scream, finally. He teased her for half an hour, doing everything to her but the final thing, and she screamed at him. She told him what she wanted, she told him in one uncertain terms. Her terms [...] were not what you might be justified in expecting from a third grade teacher. They were gutter terms and she used them like a gutter tramp.
She told him what to take, and she told him where to put it, and she told him what to do to her, and the bulk of her bedroom vocabulary was composed of four-letter words. She screamed, and she begged, and she pleaded, and he went into her the way Wehermacht went into Poland in ’39 and she stopped using words and screamed syllables of pain and pleasure at last. (p. 99)
Later, she has sex with one of the gunmen, while Burl, who talked her into, it watches — that’s his kink, his “kicks.” The scene is illustrated on the cover…
Burl watched, his eyes bulging. He watched when Dawes straightened up, knelt over her, and then began to swing his hands back and forth, slapping her across the breasts. Joyce didn’t seem to mind. Her breasts quivered, accepting the punishment, drawing pleaure from it. Dawes sapped her back and forth, slapped her nipples until they tingled. Dawes leaned over slightly, wrapping each of his big hands over a breast. he leaned back, pulling her up, then flipped her over on her stomach.
He dropped her, let her lie face down. he began slapping her again, giving her buttocks a workout, slapping them until they were flaming red. Burl had never seen anything like this [...] This was tough, strong, viral. This had guts. (pp. 141-142)
The sex scenes do not seem forced, added in just for the sake of it. This is the world these people live in, a world of extremes and desperation — desperate for money, for escape, for love in whatever form.
The heist occurs and people die, even Betty kills someone, taking pleasure in the act, for it gts her horny. But McLeod and Betty are doomed even if Chapter Twelve starts:
And they lived happily ever after.
They didn’t, of course. And wouldn’t it be terrible if they did? Think it over for a moment. Suppose etty Marie James and Martin McLeod did live happily ever after, or as close as possible. Say they got to Mexico, and found a place to live, and they were married, and they had children, and they lived a high old life until they died in their sleep fifty years later.
Wouldn’t that be disappointing?
Of course it would. There’s a tremndous amoust of satisfaction in seeing someone tripped up when they have done wrong…
Well, don’t worry ab out it. They did not live happily ever after thank the Lord. (p. 183-4)
Such a metafictional aside makes this a cut above any other Nightstand book to date, going back to the beginning that opens like a Garrison Keillor story about a sleepy Midwestern town and its folk.
But it’s predictable that they do come to a tragic end and don’t get away…we almost wat them to, like Doc McCoy and his gal do at the nd of The Getaway.
Crossroads of Lust gets a 9.5 in my book, an A-, and would have been a far better reprint for Hard Case Crime than, say, A Diet of Treacle. Perhaps it will get that reprint some day.