Despite the seemingly endless popularity of Pulp Fiction, not too many people are publishing those cartoonishly graphic, sexy hardboilers these days. But a brash new outfit called Hard Case Crime is trying to change that.
And they may have just released the dirtiest book in America.
But first, some back story. Hard Case founders Charles Ardai and Max Phillips loved the pulps of the ’40s and ’50s so much, they got into the racket themselves. “We hated that we’d been born too late to write books like these ourselves,” Ardai explains, adding that they loved the aesthetic of the old pulps. “That’s what sealed the deal: The prospect of getting to see our names on one of those gorgeous, sexy, painted pulp covers.”
Forget flowery prose and drawn-out storylines. Hard Case prides itself on tightly written, gritty thrillers, including one by Stephen King. Their reissues and brand-new offerings “grab you by the throat on page one and drag you bodily through the story until it deposits you, gasping and spent, on the last page,” says Phillips, who wants reading a book to be as fun as watching a movie. “Show me another publisher with covers like ours,” adds Ardai, referring to the masterfully retro renditions by Glen Orbik and Robert McGinnis.
Perhaps the most controversial example is Getting Off, the latest novel from Lawrence Block. Available beginning today, it sets a new standard for sex and violence.
The average man doesn’t have a woman inside him. Lawrence Block is far from the average man, however. The Mystery Writers of America named him a Grand Master in 1993 and in 2005 he received the prestigious Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award. He also shares a body with Jill Emerson, a pseudonym-cum-alter-ego he hasn’t used in over 40 years.
Fortunately, for those of us who like our literature dark, dirty and way over the top, Lawrence unleashed the beastess for this gripping tale, which follows the ruthless and sexy Kit on her mission to become a psychic virgin by sleeping with, then killing off, all extant ex-lovers. This is the type of book that will have you sporting wood one moment and freaking out about who you take home from a dive bar the next.
One thing’s for sure—Block is committed. He insisted on talking with Made Man as Emerson, and on the matter of the content, she puts me in the hot seat. “Did you think it was hot?,” she asked. “Did it, um… get to you?” I swallowed hard, adjusting a bit in my seat and wondering how the hell this literary transvestite got so good at being a lady.
Like Jimmy Page suggesting that Led Zeppelin was really a folk band, Emerson has a different idea about what her book is than you might upon first read. “It’s really a love story, isn’t it?” She even hopes it will be a happily ever after kind of tale. “A woman I know tells me Kit’s screwed in the long run, that sooner or later she’ll make a mistake and get caught or killed,” she says, smirking a bit. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
While Kit spends over 300 pages murdering men for the crime of fucking her, Emerson doesn’t believe the book is misandrist. “Kit likes men,” she emphasizes. “She has a wonderful time meeting them… and she flat-out loves going to bed with them.” Still, for Getting Off’s protagonist, “It’s only really satisfying for her if she gets to kill them afterward.”
Emerson believes it might be easier for women to write about sex than for men to. “Men so often seem to be either bragging or blushing,” she says. At the same time, “a lot of us girls crap it up with romantic drivel and others go overboard on description.” Rather than belabor the point with graphic detail, Emerson prefers to let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. “If I don’t get hot doing it, I’m not doing it right,” she says, before asking: “What scenes got you hot, Nicky? Is it OK if I call you Nicky?”
Regardless, Emerson’s quite frank about what her book says to men: “Be very careful.” Of course, to truly appreciate that message, you’ll have to read Getting Off yourself. Start here.