Set in the late fifties in New York City, this novel released again by publisher Hard Case A rather stoned Joe Milani knows exactly what he wants with her when he spies her sitting a few tables away in a coffee house located in Greenwich Village. Joe is a war veteran who certainly hasn’t had it easy on his return home and now doesn’t want much more out of his life than getting high, drinking coffee at The Palermo, and making a few bucks here and there. Content to drift through life convinced that things are what they are and are unchangeable including his own place in life, he lives with his roommate and friend Leo Marsten, also known by one and all by the name “Shank.” What starts as a dare between the two of them soon has surprising results as Joe, despite Shank’s opinion, does manage to pick up Anita and eventually an unlikely .

While the two lovers are completely opposite in every way, the complicating factor is the dark personality of Shank. A small time drug dealer and hood, he gets any woman he wants and only rarely has to display the knife he is known for in the neighborhood. He has plans, albeit unfocused plans in the beginning, for the future. Once he starts on a course of action he isn’t about to change it no matter the consequences to those around him.

Beyond being a criticism of the beat movement, this novel is a rather flat read featuring simplistic characters on an obvious road to ruin. The good girl, Anita, is portrayed as stunningly naïve about everyone and everything while Joe is the stereotypical war veteran deeply scarred by battle and yet filled with a good heart that will be unleashed by the right woman. Through Anita, Joe slowly discovers that there is more to life than being stoned all day and that they could have a future together if they broke free of the darkly evil, Shank. Beyond all that is implied by his nickname, he is a twisted force of simmering evil that is gradually and relentlessly poisoning everyone and everything he touches.

Hard Case Crime publishes good books and ones that I usually like but this one was a strong exception. This read didn’t work for me as I was bored most of the book. The characters never came alive for me or mattered in any substantive way, the writing seemed flat and dated possibly because it was originally published in 1961, and the ending was vague and unsatisfying. At 205 pages it was a quick, but lack luster read.

January 2008

A Diet Of Treacle

Lawrence Block

ISBN #0-8439-5957-6

Mass Market Paperback

205 Pages


Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

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