Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 3-4.

Bloch, Robert.  Psycho.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.

The enduring popularity of Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation has insured that Psycho will remain the novvel with which Robert Bloch is most identified.  Much of the substantial body of work that Bloch produced belongs to the horror genre and other categories of speculative fiction.  Despite its horrific elements, Psycho was based loosely on a sensational real-life case in rural Wisconsin, the serial murders of Ed Gein, who skinned his victims.  Psycho was much less a paean to the monsters of the great Gothic novels than a chilling prefigurement of the serial killer phenomenon of the post-Vietnam era.

If there is a consistent interest running through Bloch’s work, it is his fascination with aberrant characters who project their psychological disturbances outward and pathologically inflict their self-loathing on their intimates or on strangers.  A mother-obsessed serial killer, Norman Bates provides a prototype of the Bloch sociopath.  In an interesting twist on the usual cause-effect relation within the gothic formula, the Bates house itself is not haunted.  Instead, Bates has become so unhinged by his domineering mother’s death that, rather than feeling freed from her oppressive presence, he schizophrenically adopts her persona as another personality.  The crimes he commits in that guise then cause the house to seem to others to be as haunted by his twisted attachment to her as it has long seemed to him to be defined by her terrifying presence.

 

Block, Lawrence.  Eight Million Ways to Die.  New York: Arbor House, 1982.

Lawrence Block has produced several series that have much enriched the mystery genre.  In his series featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr, a bookstore owner and thief, Block has cleverly reworked the twist that a theft involves more than just removing property; it is an intrusion into people’s lives and into their psyches.  Rhodenbarr steals not just for profit, but also for the exhilaration of it—and usually he gets more of the latter than he might have anticipated.

Eight Million Ways to Die is a title in Block’s even more popular and acclaimed series featuring former police detective Matthew Scudder.  An alcoholic haunted by his own accidental shooting of a young girl and by the other deaths of innocents that he has been powerless to prevent, Scudder operates as an unlicensed private investigator, taking on cases that reflect either his clients’ desperation or his own.  In Eight Million Ways to Die, an excruciating case finally compels Scudder to confront his demons and to attempt to dry out.

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Previous Posts in This Series:

Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/24/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-1-2/.

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Previous Series:

The final post in each series is followed by links to all of the previous posts in that series.

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/02/13370/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/

 

 

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