The book, Sinner Man, is a sort of noir, hardboiled story of a different color than the ones I’ve been reading or written. Don Barshter is at best an anti-hero, and often a huge jerk. But still, it’s written in a way that makes you root for him, the same way one might root for Walter White or Tony Soprano. He’s a bit more of the latter than the former, but as he starts as an insurance agent, he has a bit of the early Walter White in him. Not that I want to use a pair of television shows for the rating of books, just as an example. Potential spoilers below.
Our hero starts out a rather boring fellow. He’s got a boring job, putting away enough but not an extravagant amount of money. He’s got a wife, though they fight often and he wonders if marriage is for them. Then, something happens: in an argument, he hits her, accidentally killing her. What is he to do?
Well, he reinvents himself and moves to a new city. The book is set in the late fifties or early sixties (when it was written, roughly), and so disappearing is a bit easier than it might be today. He vanishes into this new city (Buffalo), and begins looking for a way into organized crime. He certainly can’t fall back on his insurance sales in a legitimate way, after all.
Through the book he must make decisions that will both allow him to earn money, and keep himself under the radar. He also wants to be happy in life, so he attempts to find what he wants there. The ending, and there always has to be an ending, comes as something of a surprise and left me wanting more. But I think leaving it there might be the best possible outcome: the questions remain unanswered.
This book was a ten out of ten. The action is close up, on all levels, but oddly disconnected as our protagonist keeps himself distant from the emotions involved to protect himself. It’s got that great balance for hardboiled. The action, by the by, also includes the requisite sex. Which is definitely hardboiled fucking.
I’d recommend the book to anyone who likes hardboiled type, pulpy fiction. It’s a great read, and an easy read. Although written several decades ago it doesn’t feel that way — it isn’t drowning in old terminology, for the most part. This is also a great gangster story and even approaches the gothic style a few times. I will definitely be reading more by the author, Lawrence Block, and the publisher Hard Case Crime.