By Lawrence Block
(Writing as Jill Emerson)
Hard Case Crime
Release Date 20 Sept 2011
One of the classic traits of a noire crime story is the protagonist being an unsympathetic character. The history of American literature took a sharp left turn when this new genre came into its own, evolving from the hardcore crime pulps of the 1930s. Till then, the majority of books generally portrayed the central figures as worthy of the readers’ admiration when they behaved in true heroic style, or sympathetic when they did not. But either way, one was able to identify with the characters.
Noire changed all that and GETTING OFF is a truly fitting example of the genre as the lead character is a female sociopath without a conscience. Early in the tale we learn that Kit Tolliver was sexually abused by her father from a very young age. But whether that abuse caused her unrelenting psychosis is not argued in the slightest, as her personal response to it is to coldly murder total strangers. Block does make it clear that Kit is in some bizarre mentally deranged way killing her father over and over again with each new man she sleeps with. What he does not do his judge her for it and therein lies the perspective that is truly unsettling.
At times the book’s heavy handedness slips into black comedy territory and the prevailing humor is twisted in its perversity. Along Kit’s journey of life, and death-dealing, she logically encounters partners who are just as sick as she is. In those scenes it is all too easy to start rooting for her as if she is somehow more worthy of survival then the other monsters she has crossed paths with. The last noire thriller to have bothered me this much was Jim Thompson’s classic THE KILLER INSIDE ME. And like that book, this one is not for the faint of heart.
In the end, GETTING OFF is a cautionary tale about the sexual mores of our times and the dangerous waters singles, and cheaters, swim in. Let them read GETTING OFF and I guarantee you they will think twice about their next plunge into those dark depths where the toothy sharks prowl.