June 24, 1938 |
Buffalo, New York
|Pen name||Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanagh, Lee Duncan, Sheldon Lord, others|
|Occupation||novelist, short-story writer|
|Genres||Crime fiction, mystery fiction|
Lawrence Block (born June 24, 1938) is an American crime writer best known for two long-running New York–set series, about the recovering alcoholic P.I. Matthew Scudder and gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, respectively. Block was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1994.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Lawrence Block attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH, but left before graduating. His earliest work, published pseudonymously in the 1950s, was mostly in the porn paperback industry, an apprenticeship he shared with fellow mystery author Donald E. Westlake. The first of his "own" work to appear was the 1957 story "You Can't Lose." He has since published more than fifty novels and more than a hundred short stories, as well as a series of books for writers.
Block has lived in New York City for decades, setting most of his fiction there, and has come to be very closely associated with the city. He is married to Lynne Block, and has three daughters, Amy Reichel, Jill Block and Alison Pouliot, from an earlier marriage. With Lynne, he spends much of his time traveling (the two have been to 135 countries), but continues to consider New York his home.
Considerable autobiographical information on the earlier phase of his life and career may be found scattered through Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (1981), a collection of his fiction columns from Writer's Digest.
In 2005 he was honored with the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award.
Block is an alumnus of the Ragdale Foundation.
Matthew Scudder 
Block's most famous creation, the ever-evolving Matthew Scudder, was introduced in 1976's The Sins of the Fathers as an alcoholic ex-cop working as an unlicensed private investigator in Hell's Kitchen. Originally published as paperbacks, the early novels are interchangeable; the second and third entries—In the Midst of Death (1976) and Time to Murder and Create (1977)—were written in the opposite order. 1982's 8 Million Ways to Die (filmed in 1986 by Hal Ashby, with unpopular results) breaks from that trend, concluding with Scudder introducing himself at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The series was set to end on that note, but an idle promise Block had made to supply an editor friend with an original Scudder short resulted in "By the Dawn's Early Light", a story set during the character's drinking days, but told from the perspective of a recovering alcoholic. Block expanded on that with 1986's When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (named for a line in a song by folk singer Dave Van Ronk, a close friend), which proved not only one of the more literary entries, but also a favorite of the author and his fans. From then on, Scudder's circumstances rarely remain the same from one book to the next; 1990's A Ticket to the Boneyard, for example, reunites him with Elaine Mardell, a hooker from his days on the force, whom he marries several books later. Other fan favorites are 1991's taut, gruesome A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (winner of the Edgar Award for Best [mystery] Novel), and 1993's A Long Line of Dead Men, a tightly-plotted puzzler featuring a rapidly dwindling fraternity known as the "Club of 31". The seventeenth entry, A Drop of the Hard Stuff was published in May, 2011.
It has been suggested that Scudder's struggle with alcoholism is in part autobiographical; while Block has repeatedly refused to discuss the subject, citing AA's own tradition of anonymity, in a column he wrote for Writer's Digest, Block wrote that when he created Scudder, "I let him hang out in the same saloon where I spent a great deal of my own time. I was drinking pretty heavily around that time, and I made him a pretty heavy drinker, too. I drank whiskey, sometimes mixing it with coffee. So did Scudder."
Bernie Rhodenbarr 
Block's other major series, humorous and much lighter in tone, relates the misadventures of gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. The series is rich in sophisticated, witty dialogue.
Unlike Scudder, Rhodenbarr is ageless, remaining essentially the same from 1977's Burglars Can't Be Choosers, to the tenth and most recent entry, 2004's The Burglar on the Prowl. The only significant advancements come in the third volume, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979, winner of the first annual Nero Award) which sees Bernie having used the spoils from his previous caper to buy a bookstore, and introduces Carolyn Kaiser, his lesbian "soulmate" and partner in crime. The plots run very much to form: Bernie breaks into a residence (usually on Manhattan's Upper East Side), and, through a series of implausible events, becomes involved in a murder investigation—often as the prime suspect. Not even an eleven-year hiatus (between 1983's The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian and 1994's The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams) would see that basic formula change. There is, however, a meta quality to the more recent entries: Bernie, the reluctant detective, is himself a bookseller and genre fan, and is apt to make references to Agatha Christie, E.W. Hornung (his cat is named "Raffles"), Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Sue Grafton and John Sandford, among others. The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995) exploits this to full effect: set during a Humphrey Bogart film festival, the story is itself inspired by many of the actor's most famous roles. The Burglar in the Library (1997) similarly imagines a meeting between Hammet and Chandler at a New England inn in the 1940s, casting a volume inscribed by Chandler to Hammett as its own Maltese Falcon. In The Burglar in the Rye, Bernie helps track down a writer clearly based on J.D. Salinger.
Evan Michael Tanner 
Besides Scudder and Rhodenbarr, Block has written eight novels about Evan Tanner, an adventurer and accidental revolutionary who, as a result of an injury sustained in the Korean War, cannot sleep. All but the last of these were published in the '60s and early '70s (beginning with 1966's The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep), while the most recent, 1998's Tanner on Ice, revived the character after nearly a thirty-year hiatus.
Chip Harrison 
CHIP HARRISON, running on the twin engines of lust and curiosity, originally appeared in two funny, non-mystery novels which revolved around seventeen year old Chip's obsessive quest to lose his virginity: “No Score” and “Chip Harrison Scores Again.”
Realizing the series didn't have much of a future once Chip reached his goal, Block puts Chip to work as an assistant to a Nero Wolfe style private eye, LEO HAIG, who raises tropical fish. They appeared in two subsequent, decidedly tongue-in-cheek mystery novels: “Make Out With Murder” and “The Topless Tulip Caper.”
Four episodic novels (Hit Man (1998), Hit List (2000), Hit Parade (2006) and Hit Me (2013)) as well as one full-length novel (Hit and Run (2008)) chronicle the life of Keller, a lonely, wistful hitman who originally appeared as a semi-regular feature in Playboy magazine in the 1990s. Most of the novels are fix-ups of related short stories; Hit and Run is the only Keller novel conceived of and written as a single story.
Keller's full name is John Paul Keller (a fact mentioned in Hit Man), although he is rarely called anything but Keller in the series. Originally based in New York City, he later relocates to New Orleans where he lives under the name "Nicholas Edwards". Keller receives assignments via a contact named Dot, who is originally based in White Plains. His assignments usually take him to different cities, where he often envisions himself retiring from the business, daydreaming about settling there, before finishing off the assignment and returning, his fantasies forgotten as a passing dream. Keller's unlikely pastime is stamp collecting, to which he is nearly obsessively devoted. He collects non-U.S. issues, prior to 1940.
Other works 
Small Town (2003), Block's first non-series book in fifteen years, details a group of New Yorkers' varying responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Block has also written dozens of short stories over the years, and he is the only three-time winner of the Edgar Award for Best Short Story. The 2002 collection Enough Rope compiles stories, 84 in all, from earlier collections, such as Like a Lamb to Slaughter and Sometimes They Bite, along with new and previously uncollected stories.
In addition to writing the scripts for a handful of television episodes over the years—including, in 2005, two episodes of the ESPN series Tilt—Block co-wrote the screenplay for My Blueberry Nights, a 2007 film directed by Wong Kar-wai and starring Norah Jones.
Selected bibliography 
Matthew Scudder novels 
- The Sins of the Fathers (1976)
- In the Midst of Death (1976)
- Time to Murder and Create (1977)
- A Stab in the Dark (1981)
- Eight Million Ways to Die (1982)
- When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1986)
- Out on the Cutting Edge (1989)
- A Ticket to the Boneyard (1990)
- A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (1991)
- A Walk Among the Tombstones (1992)
- The Devil Knows You're Dead (1993)
- A Long Line of Dead Men (1994)
- Even the Wicked (1997)
- Everybody Dies (1998)
- Hope to Die (2001)
- All the Flowers Are Dying (2005)
- A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011)
Bernie Rhodenbarr novels 
- Burglars Can't Be Choosers (1977)
- The Burglar in the Closet (1978)
- The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)
- The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza (1980)
- The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian (1983)
- The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (1994)
- The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995)
- The Burglar in the Library (1997)
- The Burglar in the Rye (1999)
- The Burglar on the Prowl (2004)
There are also three Bernie Rhodenbarr short stories: "Like a Thief in the Night" (1983), "The Burglar Who Dropped In On Elvis" (1990), and "The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke" (1997).
Evan Tanner novels 
- The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep (1966)
- The Canceled Czech (1966)
- Tanner's Twelve Swingers (1967)
- The Scoreless Thai (a.k.a. Two for Tanner) (1968)
- Tanner's Tiger (1968)
- Here Comes a Hero (a.k.a. Tanner's Virgin) (1968)
- Me Tanner, You Jane (1970)
- Tanner on Ice (1998)
Chip Harrison novels/stories (as Chip Harrison) 
- No Score (1970)
- Chip Harrison Scores Again (1971)
- Make Out With Murder (a.k.a. The Five Little Rich Girls) (1974)
- The Topless Tulip Caper (1975)
- "As Dark As Christmas Gets" (1997), a Chip Harrison short story written specifically for customers of the Otto Penzler–owned Mysterious Bookshop; printed in booklet format for the 1997 holiday season, and collected in Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop (Vanguard Press 2010, ISBN 978-1-59315-617-6)
Keller novels 
- Hit Man (1998)
- Hit List (2000)
- Hit Parade (2006)
- Hit and Run (2008)
- Hit Me (2013)
Paul Kavanagh novels 
- Such Men Are Dangerous (1969)
- The Triumph of Evil (1971)
- Not Comin' Home to You (1974)
Other fiction 
- $20 Lust (1961) (reissued as Cinderella Sims)
- Death Pulls a Doublecross (1961) (reissued as Coward's Kiss)
- Mona (1961) (reissued as Sweet Slow Death and Grifter's Game)
- Markham (1961) (reissued as You Could Call It Murder)
- Pads Are for Passion (1961, as Sheldon Lord) (reissued as A Diet of Treacle)
- Fidel Castro Assassinated (1961, as Lee Duncan) (reissued by Hard Case Crime as Killing Castro)
- The Girl with the Long Green Heart (1965)
- Deadly Honeymoon (1967)
- After the First Death (1969)
- The Specialists (1969)
- Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man (1971)
- Ariel (1980)
- Random Walk (1988)
- Enough Rope: Collected Stories (2002)
- Small Town (2003)
- My Blueberry Nights (2007)
- Lucky at Cards (2007)
- Getting off, A novel of Sex and Violence (2011)
Books for writers 
- Writing the Novel From Plot to Print (1979)
- Telling Lies for Fun & Profit (1981) [a collection of his slightly re-edited fiction how-to column from Writer's Digest]
- Write For Your Life (1986)
- Spider, Spin Me a Web (1987)
- The Liar's Bible (2011)
- Step by Step: A Pedestrian Memoir (2009)
Wins are in bold
- Lawrence Block , Step by Step: A Pedestrian Memoir (2009). p. 344.
- Allen, Kate (September 7, 2009). "Coben, Cole, Atkinson vie for crime awards". The Bookseller. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
- "A Hodge-Podge of Homicide" by OTTO PENZLER, The New York Sun, June 13, 2007, accessed June 13, 2007
- "Bouchercon World Mystery Convention : Anthony Awards Nominees". Bouchercon.info. October 2, 2003. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- "Best Paperback Original Mystery Novel Edgar Award Winners and Nominees - Complete Lists". Mysterynet.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- "Edgar Award Winners and Nominees in the Private Eye Genre". Thrillingdetective.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- "Complete Lists of Previous Edgar Awards". Mysterynet.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- "Best Short Story Mystery Edgar Award Winners and Nominees - Complete Lists". Mysterynet.com. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- "The Private Eye Writers of America and The Shamus Awards". Thrillingdetective.com. Retrieved March 6, 2012.