LAWRENCE BLOCK – Sometimes They Bite. Arbor House, hardcover, 1983. Paperback editions include Jove, 1984. Avon, 1992.

   I was impressed with Lawrence Block’s Eight Millions Ways to Die. His detective, Matthew Scudder, is a fully-realized and invariably interesting character, and the suspects are sharply delineated. There are, however, some weaknesses in the book: Block’s comments about modern life have all the subtlety of a steamroller, and he doesn’t bother about fair play in clueing. But on the whole, the positive aspects of Eight Millions Ways led me to expect great things of Block’s first short-story collection, Sometimes They Bite.

   My reaction was, as they say, mixed. The volume has one fine Matt Scudder tale, one good story about thief Bernie Rhodenbarr, and two cases of that exceedingly criminal lawyer, Martin Ehrengraff.

   The other stories illustrate Block’s light touch — praised by many critics but which seems to me to trivialize tragedy. Block believes that his audience will be vastly amused whenever an attractive protagonist [sic]. This is not what Anthony Boucher meant when he said, “death and laughter are old friends.” Investigating a murder can be amusing; watching your friends in pain is not.

   With the exceptions of the Scudder, Ehrengraff and Rhodenbarr tales, Sometimes They Bite has no detection, no suspense and little mystery. Each story, it’s true, has a twist, and with a little effort some of them might have become mystery or detective stories.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984). Permission granted by Doug Greene.