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Borderline: (A Book Review)

Updated on December 14, 2016
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


The book we're looking at today is a short crime novel by Lawrence Block called "Borderline." It is easily readable in one sitting at one-hundred-seventy-seven pages, which is not including the bonus three short stories at the end.

The version I'm holding in my hand is hardcover, published by Hard Case Crime in 2014. That is to say that the "First Hard Case Crime edition" was put out in May of 2014, published by an entity called Titan Books.

The first thing to say, I think, is to comment on the kind of novel this seems to be. If you look at the picture, the cover art of the book, and observe the "Hard Case Crime" logo in the upper right hand corner (that of a pistol with a crown atop it), one gets an idea as to what this series of books by Hard Case is going for.

That is to say, I would describe the artistic intent of Hard Case (to which many authors contribute) as deliberately invoking the literary equivalent of the so-called "B-movie" in the field of film noir. In other words, it seems to me that, first, the series wants to evoke a retro feel of crime stories written in, say, the 1950s. And second, it seems to me that there is a deliberate effort, on the part of the series, to go for the literary equivalent of the B movie, as I said.

Again, just look at the picture. We have a "Jane Mansfield" type, "Va Va Voom" young woman, done up in an exaggerated pose of supposed glamor, dressed in leopard undergarments and a positively weasel-like man holding a blade, with obvious murderous intention. I see much of the "Golem" in that guy.

What I'm saying is that, from the beginning the very cover of the book hit me as, shall we say, "over the top;" and that is why I say that, perhaps, the Hard Case Crime series deliberately intends to evoke what I have called the literary equivalent of the B-movie, in retro-style crime fiction of the 1950s.

Does that make sense?

As you can see, if you look at the picture, there is a tag line that says, rather dramatically: "Some borders you can never cross back...," which is meant to be a titillating selling point, no doubt.

I could be wrong, but I do believe that this book is meant to be "pulp" fiction --- as I said before, the deliberately developed literary equivalent of the B-movie. That is to say, "Borderline" for Hard Case Crime is not meant to be compared with the best work of, say, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett; although I think that the best of Lawrence Block's work does compare favorably with the best of Chandler and Hammett.


This is a crime novel, not a mystery. There is no question of a whodunit. The perpetrator is known to us from the beginning. The question is: Will he get away with it, and if so, how?

This is not a suspense novel, in the sense that I usually define the term "suspense." What I mean by suspense is that the main character(s) are driven by the need to accomplish certain things within a specific time window, in order to avert disaster.

The culmination of the adventures of three of the characters come together at the same time, within a specific time window, if you will; but the characters, themselves, are never consciously driven by a time imperative.

This novel, in its rough hewn way, can be considered a thriller, in the way that I usually define the term "thriller." What I mean by "thriller" is a story in which a series of cascading events---each endowed with momentous immediacy---come together in a "shattering conclusion."

The basic story

I don't want to give too much away, of course. Let's just say that the story involves three Americans who crossed the border into Mexico. This border crossing is meant to be a kind of self reinvention, at least for two out of three of the main characters. There is a fourth American, who had already been long installed in Mexico; you might call this young lady an "expat."

This fourth American, this young lady is strip tease dancer in a seedy club. She has motives. The lonely, recently divorced housewife has motives (and discovers secret desires). The young woman runaway (no doubt the young woman pictured on the cover of the book) has motives (it would really be neat if she could somehow be rich and famous).

The is an American male gambler, whose motives are harder to sort out.

There is an American pervert. On the U.S. side of the border he was little more than a pest, not important at all. He reinvents himself in Mexico. He decides that he will be important, he will be infamous and notorious; he will be another Jack the Ripper and indulge himself all the way until he is killed by an army of police in a hail of gunfire, which is his fantasy.

Because of the moves these four American make to reinvent themselves, they will put themselves into a collision course.

I'll just note that I, personally, did not care for all of the prurient matter in the novel. However, it was structurally necessary to establish motivation of the main characters, which cause them to make the moves, which puts them into the "thriller" collision course.

With the three short stories at the end, fans of Lawrence Block will happily see the master returning to usual form. The very first story about the protagonists complex love-hate relationship to fire, is especially satisfying.

Thank you for reading!


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