Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Not Comin Home to You by Lawrence Block (4/5)

Lawrence Block.  Even if you’re not a fan of mysteries or crime fiction, you’ve probably heard the name.  And why wouldn’t you?  The man has been writing fiction for 50+ years, has won just about every mystery award known to man, and was named an MWA Grand Master.  Plus, his stuff is just good.  I’ve read several of his novels and have never been disappointed.  So imagine my surprise and excitement when I found that one of his previous works—the 1974 crime novel Not Comin’ Home to You—had recently been republished by Open Road Media (a publisher-crush of mine) and released in audio book format and was available at my local library.  Hot damn, right? 

Right.  But that was just the tip of the iceberg, because Open Road also agreed to front an electronic copy of the book for a giveaway (the drawing for which you can enter by following the handy-dandy directions at the bottom of this post) and coordinated a short Q&A session with the man himself (which will be forthcoming tomorrow).  I think I lost consciousness for a few seconds when I heard that last bit.  I still get a little slack-jawed when I think about it.

But I can’t afford to go all loopy now.  I’ve got a review to do.  Gotta throw some cold water on my face, slap myself around a little bit.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  I’m feeling better already.  And now, with all the hero worship beaten out of me, allow me to tell you a thing about Not Comin’ Home to You.  It goes a little something like this:

Jimmie John Hall is 22, handsome, and a career drifter.  He hitchhikes across the United States, stealing whatever catches his eye, assaulting people that get in his way, and generally riding high on a never-ending speed trip.  Betty Deinhardt is a lonely fifteen-year old high school student from Podunk, Nebraska.  Her father drinks, her parents fight constantly, and she keeps to herself, dreaming of one day escaping from her family and her little town and living a life of excitement like she sees in the movies.  In some ways, the two seem diametrically opposed; in other ways, they seem destined for one another.  Enhancing this feeling is the way that Block tells the story, alternating POVs between the two of them every other chapter.  It gives the impression of two fated planets spinning closer and closer until they crash into one another.

The events of the story are set into motion when Jimmie John kills a man for his car and his gun and hauls ass for parts unknown.  His meandering path takes him north into Nebraska and a small town called Grand Island.  There he meets Betty, the two of them fall instantly and hopelessly in love (or maybe lust?), and they agree to run off together.  After a night spent in a local hotel, Jimmie John murders a gas station attendant during a holdup (Betty not knowing this at the time) and then convinces her to go with him back to her house to collect her things and tell her parents goodbye.  Of course, it’s just a ruse to give Jimmie John an excuse to murder her parents.  This he accomplishes according to plan—blowing away even Betty’s near-catatonic grandmother—and then savagely takes his child bride on the floor in the middle of her dead family.  They blow town and hit the road, leaving a trail of bodies behind them as they try to evade the ever-tightening noose of the law.

Lawrence Block (photo © Open Road Media)
Not Comin’ Home to You was inspired by a real life “thrill kill” couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.  Over a two-month period in 1957, the pair viciously murdered 14 people (including a 2 year old child).  Their spree finally culminated in a car chase with police at the end of which Starkweather surrendered to authorities.  It’s a story you may be familiar with—not a surprising thing given the fact that the Starkweather murders inspired multiple works of art, from the 1963 exploitation film The Sadist to the 1974 biography of Caril Ann Fugate, titled simply, Caril.  And then there’s all the other psycho-killer movies and novels out there (things like The Killer Inside Me, Natural Born Killers, American Psycho, etc.).  So without me getting into the details, you should still be able to anticipate how the story is going to end.  But that’s not why you should read the book— to see what happens to a couple of star-crossed lovers on their mad killing spree.  You should read the book because of the characters themselves.

Block goes to great lengths to depict deep, intricate character portraits for both Jimmie John Hall and Betty Deinhardt.  He illustrates detailed facets of their lives, from events in their childhood, to their relationship with their parents, to their inward thoughts and reasoning.  Hell, fully one third of the book goes by before the two even meet each other.  That’s how much time he puts into developing these characters.  He accomplishes this depth through the alternating POV I mentioned earlier (which didn’t stoke my ire in this instance, mostly because it was well-structured and actually had a damn point), but also with short snippets of news reports or interviews or personal conversations spliced in at the end of each chapter.  And it's not all death an horror for these two--included as well are brief interludes of tenderness and humanity, scenes illustrating the fact that--just as all heroes have flaws--so too should villains have their... well, whatever the hell is the opposite of "flaw."  The result is an almost kaleidoscopic view of the characters—multifaceted, twisted, and yet somehow relatable.

This wasn’t my favorite Block novel (for that, I’ll kindly direct you to Grifter’s Game, originally published under the title Mona), but it rates pretty damn high—which is why I give Not Comin’ Home to You four out of five stars.  Give it a look if you get a chance.  If you’re a fan of the crime genre—or hell, of well developed characters in general—you’ll probably enjoy it.

Oh hey, and there’s this giveaway thing, too.  If lady luck is on your side, that could be your chance to get your paws on it right there.  Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.  The first entry is on the house (i.e., you don’t have to do anything extra to get it), and then you can earn more entries by helping a brother out in various ways.  See the fine print for more details.


  1. Great review Jonathan, I'm looking forward to the Q&A later on.

    1. Thanks, Zohar. Hopefully it will live up to your expectations!

  2. Okay you know that anything you recommend I want so gimme gimme gimme

  3. I already do the follows so I hope it counts. I am vary intimidated by rafflecopter and try to avoid it but you are so "special" and I like mysteries.

    1. Yes ma'am, it certainly does. And don't be ashamed, I was intimidated by rafflecopter at first. It's actually quite easy, though, once you get into it.

      And thanks--though, when you put "special" in quotation marks, it makes my spidey sarcasm senses go off. ;)

  4. I hit delete by accident so I am answering here. Last Three days 41, 40, 66. No reason. The monthly counter thing never jibes, and people who get it through email, like my brother and daughter that I know of, don't show. Jody Carr told me of a new angle to blurbs and I tried it and got one sale for five blurbs so, I have to get cracking with that as I have four books up. The Smashwords Select merry go round is hard to deal with. I get about the same money, but it switches from smashwords to Amazon if I put a book in Select. Here's weirdness. One sale my Anymore went from 350,000 or So to 48,000. Someone said that is because 300,000 plus books in between didn't sell at all. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Hmm. Yeah, well I'd say that makes sense. There's a lot of stuff on Smashwords that doesn't get any play.

      My hat's off to you for tackling this self-publishing self-promotion thing. That's a scary prospect for me--probably as scary as rafflecopter is for you. ;)

  5. I would love to be entered in the drawing and can't wait to read the interview. So jealous that you got to!!

    1. Thanks, Teressa, I'm glad you could be a part of it. Lawrence Block is really cool, and he tries to answer all fan mail personally. His email was included at the end of the book, so I think it would be OK to tell you that, if you want to talk to him, you can reach him at lawbloc[at]gmail[dot]com.

  6. Thanks for the awesome giveaway chance - your reviews and interviews are always well done and thoughtful and funny. Thanks for all the hard work and putting yourself out there for the occasional author smack down. :)

    1. No problemo, Elisa. All the thanks goes to you and the rest of the folks to reading. And when it comes to someone the stature of Lawrence Block, I don't mind a little smack down. Honestly, I'd have been disappointed if it hadn't turned out the way it did. :)

  7. Thanks for the giveaway. I have read numerous books of his and would love to add this to my collections.

    1. I'll be crossing my fingers for you, Sherry. Thank you for reading, and for entering in the giveaway.

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