In 1994, Lawrence Block was awarded the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America. One of the highest honors possible for mystery related fiction, this award has also been awarded to the likes of Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, John le Carre and Stephen King. At the time of winning the award, Block had already written upwards of 60 plus of his signature pulpy crime novels, including two lengthy series; one about a P.I. named Matthew Scudder and another gentleman burglar named Bernie Rhodenbarr. Borderline is a republishing of a novel Block wrote under one of his many pen names, originally published as Border Lust in 1962 as written by Don Holliday.
Borderline is a short, 160 page thriller about five completely separate individuals whose lives collide near the USA-MEX border; in the surrounding towns of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Marty is a single loner who enters into the scene, carrying some tequila and marijuana over the border. He declares his goods to customs and they wave him through. In the 60’s no one cared if you were bringing anything like that back to the States. Meg is on her way to singledom, as she waits for her divorce to go through. Instead of waiting around in Chicago for the paperwork to complete itself, she hitches a flight to Mexico to weather the storm in a haze of booze. Lily is a broken spirit. Hitchhiking all the way from Denver to San Francisco, she gets herself mixed up in trouble when her guys Spider and Frank knock off a liquor store, steal a car and beat foot out of town. They head east and end up near El Paso, pimping Lily out to a redneck trucker for some quick cash. Cassie, a fire hot redhead, is currently working at Delia’s Place in Cuidad Juarez. Left by her current girlfriend Didi, she’s on the hunt for new female blood. The last of the pack is Weaver, and he’s a doozy. Weaver is also on the run, but from the cops in Tulsa. Weaver’s a bit of a misguided man. In Tulsa, he lost control of himself, killed a thirteen year old girl, raped her and mutilated her by chewing on her neck a bit. Weird folks, huh? The story that ensues over the next 160 or so pages brings these five characters closer and closer until they collide with unexpected results.
When reading this book, it’s of extreme importance to remember it was first published in 1962, which means all of the cultural and societal norms that exist in the book might not exist today. For example, when Marty enters the story he is carrying a generous amount of tequila and marijuana from Mexico into the United States. Would that be allowed in this day and age? Absolutely not. Because of this, Borderline plays on tropes and rules of a more lax era, showing a more free flowing society. Block does a fantastic job weaving together the characters in this novel. Even though it’s supremely short, in fact almost a novella, the characters are more than once seen in the same scene or referenced to each other. It’s made known in the beginning by the plot description that they would all come together for a cataclysmic ending, but the sheer amounts that each of them interact with the others without knowing it, makes for a great setting. Additionally with this novel, there are three of Block’s more rare short stories originally published in the late 1950’s.
Borderline is a great beach read. Something the reader can consume in a few hours, depending on reading speed. The content is for adults, but mysterious and dark enough that it should entertain those looking for a break from their regular scheduled thrillers they might have on rotation. Lawrence Block always has and will continue to be an amazing crime fiction writer. This story, like many of his others, is filled with intrigue, action and plenty of suspense and should be considered a priority read for anyone that enjoys pulp crime novels.
Rating: 8 out of 10 – Borderline is a visceral punch in the gut. It’s characters play their parts perfectly, rounding out the plot in a crime style that makes for a perfect, quick read. Block once again proves himself to be a Grand Master of mystery.