Like a good many professional storytellers, Lawrence Block has written under more than one name over the years: perhaps the most startling nom du plume is that of “Jill Emerson.” The authoress of seven prior novels that include “sensitive lesbian fiction” and “candid erotica,” the pseudonymous Miz E. has now crafted a Hard Case Crime novel entitled Getting Off. Subtitled “a novel of sex and violence,” the pulpy thriller tracks a shapely serial killer who goes by many names, traveling across the country to pick up unsuspecting men that she can bed, kill and bed again. A creepy character, to be sure, but Block/Emerson make her an enticing one.
Our anti-heroine has gone for years, living off horny dupes, and she’s only had five male survivors throughout her murderous career. When a chance remark gets her thinking about the Ones Who Got Away, she decides to track each one down to achieve complete closure. The bulk of Getting Off, then, follows our gal on her man-by-man quest, turning this book into a twisted variation on Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black. You can see Block having fun with his diverse crew of victims: one of ‘em, for example, turns out to be a recovering sex addict in a 12-step program, which allows the writer to fiddle around with the tenets that bolster his more famous recovering alcoholic hero, Matt Scudder. In another, the murderess cleverly makes use of her victim’s religious beliefs to slay one of her targets by proxy.
Befitting its non-too-subtle title, Off is open in its sexual content — unsurprising for a writer known for earlier works of “candid erotica” — and in considering its protagonist’s twisted sexuality. As she embarks on her quest, she connects with a slightly older, somewhat shapelier dame named Rita. The two attach to each other by talking progressively more sexually (lots of use of the “c-word”), and as the relationship builds, both our anti-heroine and the reader begin to wonder. If these two consummate their relationship, will Rita have to become the next victim? To test this out, our inquisitive killer starts to frequent lesbian bars, looking for a suitable hook-up.