Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block (Hard Case Crime #1)

grifter's gameSex, Drugs and Cigarettes – 4 Stars

This was my first foray into the world of Hard Case Crime. While these books can be read in whichever order you please, as usual, I felt compelled to start at the beginning. What a great place to start! Lawrence Block has a deceptively simple writing style. He gives you what you need, nothing more nothing less. The result is a fast paced novel with a lot of story stuffed into 200 pages. When I am in the mood for some gritty pulp noir, I will be back to Hard Case Crime.

Plot Outline

Joe Marlin (or whichever alias he is using) is a little more than a small time con man. His good looks and his natural charm often find him in the arms (and beds) of needy and wealthy women. Once he is in, he takes what he can and runs for the next town. After a string of bad luck and less than profitable conquests, Joe is forced to skip town. As he had to leave his goods behind, he steals some expensive luggage from a train station and finds he is inadvertently in possession of a King’s Ransom worth of heroin. Unsure of how to cash in on his newfound wealth, he puts himself up a nice hotel to think it over. Here he meets the intoxicating, rich and unhappily married Mona and finds himself in a plot to rid himself her husband so he can have his happily ever after. Will Mona be his meal ticket or his downfall?

The Dirt

You Can’t Beat the Atmosphere

The novel is wonderfully atmospheric. This is even more impressive given the minimalistic writing style of the author. This is what I expect from any crime noir novel and it does not fail to deliver.

Once the atmosphere is set, the author does not abandon the plot. If not a tad predictable, there are a few interesting plot twists. While I was not surprised by most of the twists along the way, I was surprised by the ending and actions of the characters. I found it to be more devious than I had expected and frankly an unexpected form of violence.

This novel was written in 1961 and as you may imagine, it will not meet any modern standard for political correctness. Some readers may find the depictions of women to be distasteful and some will find the final scene to be in bad taste. Personally, I found this aspect to be an interesting as it snapshot of past standards. Yes, people may still hold similar beliefs but I think you get my point.

While you may not care about political correctness, you may be put off by the sex. It is certainly a central theme of this novel. People are blinded, mislead and just plain stupid because of sex. A significant portion of the 200 pages take place in the bedroom (or some such substitute) or devoted to worrying, thinking and discussing sex. While the themes of sex is pervasive, it is treated in a matter of fact fashion and while moderately graphic, it is not written to be erotic, at least not by today’s standards.

Final Thoughts

This is some great noir pulp. If you like characters who are controlled by their vices and find themselves is bad situations because of this, I would recommend this read. I hope the other novels in the series are of similar quality as I most definitely plan on reading more.


It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.

Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest

Sex 4

Sex is pervasive and the moderately graphic. That said, it is written in such a way that it is not really erotic. Sex takes up a significant portion of this short novel and some people will find it to be offensive.

Language 3

There is moderate use of adult language. None of the characters are exactly “virtuous” and are quite liberal when it comes to any vice, swearing included.

Violence 2.5

There is a murder and the planning of a murder. A woman is slapped on more than one occasion. There is some other “non traditional violence” at the end of the book. Some readers will find it to be abusive violence and may be offended.

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Tim Written by:

Tim is a lawyer, sports fan, parent, husband and book lover. He runs his own legal practice and is the founder of The Literary Lawyer book blog and a contributing writer for Tim loves to share his love of reading by providing reviews to entertain as well as provide information to help you make an informed reading decision.