The Sadist – Andrew Shaw aka Lawrence Block (Nightstand #1629, 1962)
Block wrote, as far as I know, two Corniths featuring ice man Jack Garth, The Sadist and Passion Madman as Andrew Shole (though seems that one was penned by William Coons). In his essay “The First Andrew Shaw,” Lynn Munroe writes about The Sadist:
Sadistic hit man Jack Garth comes to Albany to kill an entire family, which he proceeds to do with methodical terror. In one chilling, unforgettable scene, he chops up the mom with an ax while forcing her daughter to watch. This one lives up to its title and took readers into a dark night of the soul quite removed from the usual sex and fun of the Nightstand books. “I realized when I read The Sadist that Larry Block was creating a whole new direction in these books,” Bill Coons told me. “Instead of being the villain, this insane sadistic killer was the main character.” Jim Thompson, of course, had already written The Killer Inside Me, but Lou Ford is a pussycat compared to mad Jack Garth. The cold, bleak, amoral world of The Sadist takes us further, disgusting and compelling us with a morbid fascination. Our “hero” is a serial killer. “Block was ahead of his time,” Coons says. Coons’ sequel, Passion Madman (LB603), was published in 1963. Clue: one character lives in the Kallett Building. Many Nightstands are tame by today’s standards. This one is strictly Adults Only.
In his introduction to the reprint of Cinderella Sims, Block notes that sometimes he’d start a book for Gold Medal that would wind up being a Nightstand, and vice-versa. I believe this may have been the case with this novel, as it reads like it was targeted for a Gold Medal audience and perhaps the publisher rejected it on the grounds of too much graphic violence, and having a protagonist we neither care nor root for.
How can we have sympathy for Jack Garth? He’s a cold-blooded murderer and gets off on the kill — ahead of his time, indeed, as this type of “psychological horror” fiction with the bad guy as main character was popular in the 1980s. Garth has no redeeming qualities like, say, Block’s later criminal hitmen or burglars.
Overall it’s an okay book, not one of Block’s best. There are some usual early Block elements: the hipster beatniks, orgies, over-sexed teen girls. I give it a B-minus.