"Once upon a time there were three little sisters," the Dormouse began in a great hurry; "and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well—"
"What did they live on?" said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.
"They lived on treacle," said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.
"They couldn't have done that, you know," Alice gently remarked; "they'd have been ill."
"So they were," said the Dormouse; "very ill." — from Through the Looking Glass
The appearance of another "new" Lawrence Block title under the Hard Case Crime banner has become an annual occurrence I invariable look forward to. It can't last forever, presumably, but reading stories like Lucky at Cards, The Girl with the Long Green Heart, and Grifter's Game gives one an inexpensive education in the life of the con artist.
A Diet of Treacle (originally published as Pads Are for Passion under the house name Sheldon Lord) is a little different — it's a more traditional type of noir involving a trio of under-30s in 1960s Greenwich Village. Joe Milani is a vet of Korea who revels in the coolness he gets from a good marijuana high. Leon "Shank" Marsten, Joe's roommate, is just looking for his next deal or his next lay. Both of them surround themselves with Hip.
Anita Carbone, however, is very Square — a good little Italian girl whom Joe meets one night at The Palermo and can't get out of his mind afterward — she has the life he wishes he could return to after his having turned on and dropped out. But Anita wants what Joe has — unpredictability, what she sees as excitement.
A Diet of Treacle is much more a character piece than Block's other Hard Case Crime titles. It is also the first of his "sleaze" titles I've read that actually features a fair amount of sex talk — though a good portion of that concerns so-called "promiscuous virgins" (girls experienced in sex every way but the main route).
Block's style really captures the voice and spirit of the darker side of Beat and Hip, but in a way that makes me unsure if his research came from life or from other books. Luckily, while the main focus is on these three characters and their individual sex and drug experiences, there is a certain level of tension over the proceedings: we know something is going to happen, just not what.
In fact, when all hell finally breaks loose, it is a bit of a relief. Having really enjoyed Grifter's Game, The Girl with the Long Green Heart, and Lucky at Cards, this one comes across as comparatively weak, but A Diet of Treacle is still vintage Lawrence Block, and Block is always eminently readable.