Anthony's Reviews > Getting Off

Getting Off by Jill Emerson
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's review
Oct 11, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: hard-case-crime, lgbt
Read from September 22 to 29, 2011 — I own a copy

GETTING OFF is a brutal book, even by Hard Case Crime standards. Anyone looking for a cozy mystery is in the wrong place. Sure, Lawrence Block has written such books (the Bernie Rhodenbarr series comes the closest), but none of his work re-issued by Hard Case Crime over the years (KILLING CASTRO, GRIFTER'S GAME, A DIET OF TREACLE) can be called "cozy." I suppose one or two of the seven books he's written as "Jill Emerson" might be more light-hearted, but they're still not for the faint of heart. The summary on the inside back-cover pretty much covers it all: this book has plenty of sex and lots of murder, and it revels in both.

GETTING OFF also has a main character who is oddly compelling despite the fact that I didn't really like her. Katherine/Lucky/Pam/Kimmie/whoever-she-is-this-week is a sex-and-killing machine. Block explores her present and her past equally, so that we understand what brought her to where she is, and her story is, as I said, compelling. There is, in her own mind, a completely logical reason for why she starts killing (and then robbing) the men she has sex with, and an equally logical thought process behind attempting to break herself of this rather bad (if occasionally lucrative) habit. Part of me was right there with her, understanding the internal logic of her every move. I understood her, I empathized with her, I railed against the cruelty of the world that brought her to this emotional place, I felt happy for her when good things happened (and they occasionally do -- Block is not such a dark writer that the entire book is doom and gloom, thank god), and yes, I was even titillated by one or two of the sex scenes (all of which are graphic but not pornographic, if that makes any sense at all). And honestly -- I'm jaded. It takes a lot for a written sex scene of any kind to arouse more than mild curiosity on my part, so for this gay man to have a reaction to two lesbian almost-sex scenes ... well, congratulations Mister Block! (And anyone who has read a "Jill Emerson" book should not be shocked at the nascent lesbian content of the book.) But despite understanding her, feeling for her, and even being slightly titillated by some of her actions (and a bit grossed out by other bedroom antics), by the end of the book I didn't actually LIKE her any more than I did at the start (and in fact, I might have liked her less).

What made the book so compelling for me is the fact that it is almost ridiculously fast-paced. Even when "Kimmie" is not screwing or killing, things still fly along. There are precious few quiet moments in the entire book, not even a handful of grace notes to break up the staccato rhythm. The chapters are mostly short, and they drag you along. This is the closest I think I've come all year to not being able to put a book down until it was done. (Unfortunately, work and sleep got in the way of that, and I did put it down ... but I didn't want to.) A number of the flashbacks to "Kimmie's" past have an almost dream-like unreality about them which sets them apart nicely from her present. And there's some wonderfully dark humor tucked into these pages as well, especially towards the end.

As the face of the relaunched Hard Case Crime imprint (along with Christa Faust's CHOKE HOLD and two offerings from Max Allan Collins) and HCC's first hardcover release, there was I think a high expectation put on Block's first "Jill Emerson" book in a long number of years. Overall, Block succeeds in reminding us of why we read HCC: for pulp-noir-ish down-and-dirty stories that often illuminate the underside of life. The main character of GETTING OFF is definitely a part of that underside, the kind of serial killer Dexter would be happy to hunt down.
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