$20 Lust by Andrew Shaw (Lawrence Block)
Nightstand #1546 (1960) is an early Lawrence Block, as he started to explore crime fiction in his softcores with Cornith and Beacon. It’s a flawed novel, but fun, and has the usual Block clues: a book called The Sound of Distant Drums and a casino called West of Lake.
The narrator is a young man in a bad place: an out-of-work journalist living in a rented room and working at a diner for $40 a week. His life fell apart when his wife, Mona, left him for his friend, and then the two got into a car accident and died (same situation in Orrie Hitt’s Diploma Dolls).
He has noticed this beautiful blonde around, and follows her to find out where she lives. Her name is “Cinderella Sims.” She knows he is wacthing her and pulls a gun on him. She thinks he is working for her ex-lover, a criminal she absconded $50,000 of counterfeit $20 bills from. She is on the run, not knowing what to do with the cash.
She makes a deal with the narrator, to escape somewhere and launder the funny money. They have sex, too.
This one has a lot of problems — structure and logic, obviously a good young writer still ironing out his chops, which may be why Block was so reluctant to have Subterranean Press re-publish it a few years ago (I hear among the grapes that Sub will also reprint some Sheldon Lord Beacon titles in the future).
What I liked is that the hero/unwilling criminal gets away with the loot in the end, and gets the girl, and it’s all a happy ending. Even the narrator wonders about that, how his life doe snot have a cliched moral ending. “Life is stranger than fiction,” he muses, rich, with Cinderella Sims pregnant with their child.
Reed Nightstand reprinted it with the title Block intended in 1973.
The 2002 Subterreanean edition is in hardback, a fine edition with a preface by Ed Gorman about the sleaze era and paperbacks, and nudging Block to reprint, and an afterword by Block himself talking about his hack days and reconnecting with an old work he barely recalls writing.