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    Review of SMALL TOWN by Lawrence Block

    William Morrow, 2003

    Author John Blair Creighton is accused of strangling a woman he accompanied to her appartment--he is pretty sure he's innocent, but his memory of the evening is vague. A man whose life was destroyed by the 9/11 attacks decides that New York can only be revived by sacrifice, and nominates himself as the priest. A woman runs an art gallery showing works by the insane and pursues the most outrageous sexual fantasies. A former police commissioner finds that woman's sexual games to be more important than any of his ambitions.

    Author Lawrence Block (see more reviews of novels by Block) combines these elements into a wide-ranging tale of post-9/11 New York. For some, the changes are terrible. For others, like the commissioner, they are mixed blessings. For Creighton, everything comes up roses. Being accused of a terrible crime is good for his writing, good for the interest that publishers shower on him, and certainly good for his sex life (could this be a writer's secret fantasy?). Block has been a mainstay of the mystery novel for decades and his writing is highly polished and readable, his insights into humanity fully developed.

    What SMALL TOWN lacked, at least to me, was a compelling story line or character arc. The 'carpenter,' the man who decided that New York required a sacrifice, is the character who pulls the others together, but he lacked sympathy or a clear plan. Creighton fell into fortune rather than battling for it. Susan, the art gallery owner, found her calling, but her final development came as something of a surprise rather than a logical progression of choice and consequences.

    Quasi-protagonist Creighton chose to write a novel based on one of his earlier short stories. To a large extent, that is what SMALL TOWN felt like--one of Block's quirky and fascinating short stories blown up far beyond its requirements. Because Block is such a fine author, he can, almost, get away with it. SMALL TOWN makes interesting reading but falls short of Block's best.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 3/04/03

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