The House of Seven Sins by Andrew Shaw (Lawrence Block or William Coons?), Nightstand Books #1575
Another good early Andrew Shaw about a neophyte writer in the big city of big sin and lust…
Lou Packer, 25, has come from upper NY state Clarksonsville to chase his dream of being a writer — he rents a two room apartment in a building in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, to sit down and write his first novel, with hopes of selling it to one of the Manhattan publishers. Not an hour after he arrives, does the super, a sexy woman named Ameila, have sex with him — several times.
Well, this is a sleaze novel…or, in the case of Nightstand Books, a sleaze periodical, that has all the characteristics of early Larry Block….or does it? According to Lynn Munroe’s Reed Nightstand checklist, this Shaw was penned by William Coons, reprinted in 1973 as The Obsessed.
Coons started ghosting for Block in 1961, the first Passion Slaves (NB 1563), and if he did ghost this one (1961 seemed to be a busy year for Block as he began to publish under his own name at Gold Medal, first with Mona), he did a good job imitating Block’s style — the clipped paragropaghs and the long chapters — there are only nine chapters here, and Block’s usually has nine or ten chapters. (This is easy to see why — each chapter is 5,000 words, and 10 makes a 50,000 word book. Craftsmanship.)
At least, I thought this was entirely Block after Chapter One, but reading on it is evident this is not entirely Block. I’m thinking Block wrote Chapter One (and maybe a few others) and Coons took over. This seemed to be the modus operandi for Block back then with his ghosters like Donald Westlake and Bill Coons and whoever else…
The House of Seven Sins veers off into a multi-character story: there is Herbie, the drawfish maintenence man at the building who, because of his size, can move about quietly, peer into windows, and take photos of all the kinky stuff going on at 396 Washington Avenue, which seems to be a real address in New York.
There is Cameila, a young woman that Lou happens to cross paths with in the shared bathroom on his floor. She’s a lowly assistant and first reader at a publishing company; she informs him of the reality of publishing, like getting an agent:
“An agent is a very important person for anyone who wants to write. An agent can save him all kinds of time and wasted energy […] An agent is a man who has contacts, knows the markets and the editors and when and where material is needed at the moment. An agent is like a dispatcher for a railroad line. He can control and direct the flow […] First you’ve got to have something. Something that’s aimed at a particular market. A few good, solid, market-directed pieces of fiction, for instance. Then you could go to any number of agents.” (p. 93-94)
Cameila is the opposite of Ameila, however — she teases but she’s not interested in sex; Lou loses control and winds up forcing her, raping her, destroying any neighborly friendship they had.
Then there is Felix, a failed painter who pimps out his 12-year-old niece for money. Here the book pushes the envelope of sadistic taboo:
The girl was younger than he expected.
A lot younger.
She looked to be around twelve of thirteen.
Holy mother, the dark man thought to himself. Am I going to plow this?
The thought excited him highly and his eyes burned as he looked at her. She had on a tin dress of some kind of silky material. It was not enough to hide the lean youthfulness of her body. It was the body of a well-developed twelve-year-old with tiny, hard, beginning-to-bloom breasts, hard buttocks, narrow waist, and soft-looking hair. (p. 56)
For $40, Felis tells the dark man, he can take her virginity, but Felix wants to watch. But the lure of corrupting innocence is lost as they get to bed and Felix jacks-off, watching.
Felix had lied.
She was no virgin.
She wasa writhing, scatching ball of passion. She moaned to him with lips contorted with pleasure.
“Oh take me, honey, I love it, you’re so good — you’re the best I’ve ever had!”
He spat in he face. “Tramp!” he snarled. I’ll show you something you’ve never had! I’ll split you!”
And it felt to her like he was going to.
And then she stopped screaming and there was no sound in the room but the slap of his body against her. (p. 60)
If this were an Andrew Vachss novel, Burke would come busting ion and kill the two men in the name of good.
While this passage may be disturbing to some, it has a horrid ring of truth to it: Felix is an immigrant, and immigrants whoring out their own family members was, and is, nothing new under the sun. When the man first suggests paying $25 for the girl, Felix guffaws and tells him for 25 he can have his aging mother.
The flaw of this book is that it’s not a novel but a series of linked stories — much like the Shaw collaboritive book Sin Alley — set in a building, a set-up used by many writers, from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City to Thomas M. Disch’s 334 to Thomas Glynn’s The Building or even Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside (soon to be an HBO mini-series I hear).
This one one is okay, a B- at best.