Getting Off – Lawrence Block (as Jill Emerson)

3 out of 5

HCC-101

Returning to a nom de plume writer Lawrence Block had used in the 70s for lesbian fiction, occasionally of an erotic bent, that, plus the wonderfully lurid Hard Case Crime cover from Gregory Manchess, plus the title – Getting Off – should give you an idea of what you’re likely dealing with here.

And that idea is pretty spot on, but it’s also not. Because we do get a fair share of much lurid sex, both straight and gay, and without much context beyond that of giving the reader some detailed titillation, but then we also get a deep dive into the mind and experiences of narrator Kit Tolliver, serial killer, with a chapter-by-chapter habit of picking up men, taking them to bed, and then killing them.

Just as descriptive as Block / Emerson gets during the sex scenes (much more graphic than Block would’ve written decades ago – Emerson has stepped things to be more current in tone), these deaths are also very detailed, and honestly quite horrifying. While there’s surely an undercurrent of dark humor running throughout, and the book is undeniably exploitative in genre, there’s a character sketch employed that slowly unfolds, exploring why Kit is this way, and what continues to drive her. And through that, Block is able to go to some surprisingly dark places – not just in that backstory, but in the freedom he allows Kit’s thoughts, and her actions.

A loose thread emerges: Kit settles on a quest to track down the only men she’s slept with and hadn’t killed, for one reason or another – a list of five. Between one-off incidents, she pieces together clues to find them, and then we get mini-puzzles for her to solve, to wind her way back into their lives. Block advances the psychological component of things by giving Kit reason to ask What Comes Next? Is there a life after this killing?

And while all of these pieces are absolutely fascinating, or disturbing, or arousing – as they’re all intended to be – it is the sort of patchwork nature of the book that keeps it squarely as exploitative erotica, and not much more. It can be noted that several chapters of this appeared separately, as short stories, and that feeling persists: that you’re reading something of a stitch-up. The narrative never quite comes together, and the conclusion can only cheekily bow out as a result.