Review

Enough Rope

by Lawrence Block



I guess I was peripherally aware of how prolific Lawrence Block has
been. He's probably best known for his Matthew Scudder novels but
he's created a number of other fictional protagonists --- Bernie
Rhodenbarr, Evan Tanner, Chip Harrison, Keller --- worthy of
boldfaced note. Include a number of stand-alone novels, captivating
in their own right, and you've got a few shelves of Block, all of
it good. What escaped my notice, however, up until ENOUGH ROPE
crossed the threshold, is that Block is a prodigious writer of
short fiction as well. And the man is an absolute marvel.

ENOUGH ROPE is, in Block's own words, a doorstop of a book, almost
900 pages worth of stories gathered from his past, present, and
future. There's "You Can't Lose," his first published story, as
well as eleven new, unpublished stories, and "It Took You Long
Enough," written 30 years ago but only now seeing the light of day.
Block has also gathered stories from the respective myths of
Scudder, Harrison, Keller, Rhodenbarr, and Ehrengraf, efficiently
and thoughtfully grouping each of these, while including some 42
other works that are unrelated to each other. The result is a
collection of 84 stories that is an introduction and study of a
writer who has quietly become one of the best and most popular
scribes in the mystery and suspense genres.

Block's work is faintly reminiscent of O. Henry's to the extent
that Block often features a surprise or unexpected ending.
Repeatedly dipping into that well arguably has its drawbacks ---
after reading a few stories the reader learns, almost
unconsciously, to expect the unexpected --- but even when the
ending is correctly anticipated the journey toward the conclusion,
narrated in an offhand voice that belies the dark, makes the trip
worthwhile. Working in short fiction also has given Block the
opportunity to drift into the horror ("Hot Eyes, Cold Eyes") and
fantasy ("The Boy Who Disappeared Clouds") genres. What is really
illustrative of Block's genius, however, is that one can go from
the beginning to the end of ENOUGH ROPE with nary a break in
attention. It's akin to having a plate of shrimp in front of you;
you sit and devour it all before you know it's gone, but you still
want more. Most of Block's stories are but a few pages in length,
just enough to keep you going from story to story. "Just one more,"
you tell yourself, and before you know it, 100 pages and a couple
of enjoyable hours have fallen by the wayside.

And believe it or not, there are more that didn't make it into the
book. Block omitted most of his earlier stories from ENOUGH ROPE as
well as a number of others. He goes into his reasoning in his
Introduction, and therein lies a couple of my minor complaints with
this volume. One, I would have liked to have had all of his short
work in one volume. Call me anal retentive and you'll get no
argument. I'm a completist. I like it all. If there's too much of a
good thing, I have yet to encounter it. Two, I would have preferred
to have had Block's independent stories listed in chronological
order, so that the reader could, if you will, trace Block's
development and evolution as a writer. Three, I would have loved a
bibliography documenting the origin of publication of each of these
wonderful stories. Having itemized my complaints, let me refute
them: One, don't be greedy. Two, his first published story is
included here, and he appears to have been aborne writing. Do you
think you could really tell when he turned the corner? Three, oh,
behave! To put it another way, anyone who would complain about this
masterful collection would gripe, if hung with new rope, about it
not being long enough. It is neither too long nor too short, but
just enough.

The length is great, the price is a bargain, and it might be big
enough to be a doorstop, but you won't use it for that --- you
won't put it down long enough. Once you read the last word of "You
Can't Lose" you'll want to start all over and begin reading the
first sentence of "A Bad Night for Burglars." ENOUGH WORK is a
classic documentation of the great work of one of our best.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Enough Rope
by Lawrence Block

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2002
  • Hardcover: 896 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060188901
  • ISBN-13: 9780060188900