Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2018 October 19 • Friday

The novel that Robert Bloch wrote after Psycho was called The Dead Beat and the first line is "Larry Fox waited for the downbeat", which is a pretty good first line.

I was hoping for a psycho-killer beatnik story and while The Dead Beat touches on that in places, it's more of a juvenile delinquent novel sprinkled with some some hip and slangy jazz cat lingo.

The best part is the beginning, with Larry Fox sitting in as a pianist for a combo playing in a roadhouse. Bloch is great on the atmosphere and the beginning of Larry's character development.

There's some very effective and economical descriptive writing.

"Larry fumbled through the cues and the cheap arrangements as the blue spot cut through swirls of smoke and air that was 80 proof by volume."

"Larry braced himself against the back seat and opened his mouth, but only to swallow darkness. And then he fell forward on the floor and the darkness swallowed him."

But once we leave the roadhouse milieu, the story shrinks and becomes more conventional. Larry sneers at the suburban squares with their "television worship" and "Frank Lloyd Wrighteousness" and one of these squares, the father of a teenage girl that Larry has an eye for, figures out that Larry is trouble right away.

This father character also makes some speeches about youth culture and the worship of youth, which Larry responds to with his own speech about adults always exploiting youth, sending them off to fight in their wars, for example.

The plot concerns Larry trying to shake down his ex-girlfriend for money and then, after getting beaten up, being taken in by a childless married suburban couple. Using their house as his headquarters, Larry manipulates his hosts and plans for both revenge and a bigger score.

It's a short book and a quick read with some nice turns of phrase, such as "ivory hunter" as slang for piano player. But it doesn't fulfill the promise of the opening pages, which seem to indicate something deeper, something closer to Jim Thompson territory, perhaps.

It's possible that Larry Fox's name is meant as a nod to D.H. Lawrence's The Fox, and a fairly flimsy case could be made for that, but I'm inclined to doubt it.