Lawrence Block’s Grifter’s Game is the first book from the publisher Hard Case Crime which as released some must-read books: Max Allen Collins’ Quarry series, two Stephen King books, early works by Michael Crichton, and many others. (They are woefully shy in publishing work by women and people of color.)
Grifter’s Game opens up in the Ben Franklin Hotel in Center City Philadelphia. Our anti-hero is David Gavilan, a con man who wanders from city to city seducing rich women. The difference between Grifter’s Game’s anti-hero and the one in Charles Willeford’s High Priest of California is one of conscience. Gavilan has one, Russell Haxby does not.
Set in the late 50s or early 60s, Gavilan has run out of time on his hotel bill and is the time to run out of town as well. We soon learn that Gavilan is not his really Favilan either, it could be “ … Joe Marlin. That was my name, before it was David Gavilan, before it was Leonard K. Blake, before a lot of names. Do names matter? They never did.” A many with many names and no names.
His journey takes him to Atlantic City, where the newly anointed Leonard K. Blake has stolen some monogrammed LKB luggage and he is setting up shop in the Shelbourne. Soon, our anti-hero meets Mona, the femme fatal of this particular story. He also discovers a briefcase full of heroin that belonged to the luggage’s previous owner.
Block’s writing is straightforward and the action comes at us repeatedly. A lust-filled crime novel, Grifter’s Game is an enjoyable read.