Sinner Man by Lawrence Block is a blast from the past, 1960. The Afterword is the most interesting aspect of this nostalgic crime novel. According to Block he lost track of this novel that he wrote in the 50’s. It was one of his first and he didn’t rediscover it until 2010, under another title, Savage Lover. In the afterward he takes us on the long path the manuscript follows from one publisher to another and even under various pseudonyms. The long and short of it is that Sinner Man is a new crime novel from Lawrence Block for many of his avid readers. When written in the 50’s as he explains many of the actions depicted were reasonable and quite possible, as he himself had proven in his own life. The most bizarre one was how easy it was to obtain a Social Security card and he created a false person at his high school who became the class historian.
In Sinner Man the antics of Donald Barshter to become Nathaniel Crowley are impossible to fathom in today’s hi-tech environment. Barshter is an insurance salesman living in the Danbury suburbs. After another night of drinking and arguing with his wife, he hits her and she falls against the fireplace and dies after hitting her head on the stones. He puts her body in the closet, collects some clothes, cleans out his bank accounts, and rides a train to Buffalo (where Block grew up) to become Nat Crowley, the newest member of a local mob and eventually rises to the top only to kill again and again and again until he has to ride the rails to another life.
The action of this novel is classic 1950’s with all the trapping of drinking, cigarette smoking anywhere, the cars, the clothes, and the clubs. Riding the rails and airplanes is a fantastic look into how it actually was for travellers in the 50’s and 60’s. It includes a classic film noir star like Ray Danton while creating another in Don Barshter/Nat Crowley. What ever becomes of Nat when he leaves Buffalo in yet another disguise? Hooray for lost novels found again.