Lawrence Block has been writing crime, mystery, and suspense fiction for more than half a century. He has published in excess (oh, wretched excess!) of 100 books, and no end of short stories.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., LB attended Antioch College, but left before completing his studies; school authorities advised him that they felt he’d be happier elsewhere, and he thought this was remarkably perceptive of them.
His earliest work, published pseudonymously in the late 1950s, was mostly in the field of midcentury erotica, an apprenticeship he shared with Donald E. Westlake and Robert Silverberg. The first time Lawrence Block’s name appeared in print was when his short story “You Can’t Lose” was published in the February 1958 issue of Manhunt. The first book published under his own name was Mona (1961); it was reissued several times over the years, once as Sweet Slow Death. In 2005 it became the first offering from Hard Case Crime, and bore for the first time LB’s original title, Grifter’s Game.
LB is best known for his series characters, including cop-turned-private investigator Matthew Scudder, gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner, and introspective assassin Keller.
Because one name is never enough, LB has also published under pseudonyms including Jill Emerson, John Warren Wells, Lesley Evans, and Anne Campbell Clarke.
LB’s magazine appearances include American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, Linn’s Stamp News, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and The New York Times. His monthly instructional column ran in Writer’s Digest for 14 years, and led to a string of books for writers, including the classics Telling Lies for Fun & Profit and The Liar’s Bible. He has also written episodic television (Tilt!) and the Wong Kar-wai film, My Blueberry Nights.
Several of LB’s books have been filmed. The latest, A Walk Among the Tombstones, stars Liam Neeson as Matthew Scudder and is scheduled for release in September, 2014.
LB is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and a past president of MWA and the Private Eye Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times each, and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Diamond Dagger for Life Achievement from the Crime Writers Association (UK). He’s also been honored with the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award from Mystery Ink magazine and the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement in the short story. In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Germany, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Taiwan. As if that were not enough, he was also presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. (But as soon as he left, they changed the locks.)
LB and his wife Lynne are enthusiastic New Yorkers and relentless world travelers; the two are members of the Travelers Century Club, and have visited around 160 countries.
He is a modest and humble fellow, although you would never guess as much from this biographical note.
The short stories that make up this collection are being released separately for the Kindle, and the first one is currently available for free. This review is only for that story, The Ehrengraf Defense.
Lawrence Block has a style all to his own, and it is on fine display in this twelve page short story -- in only two scenes, he gives you one of the more interesting lawyer characters in recent memory, as well as a complete case and resolution.
The stories in this collection were written over the course of thirty-five years. It would be, I think, a mistake to try to read them all in thirty-five minutes. You could do it, mind you, if you're a fast reader and if you're okay with skipping the passages detailing what kind of tie the main character is reading. (I am wearing, as it happens, a very smart Brooks Brothers navy tie with tiny white squares in a repeating diagonal pattern, not that you care.)
The stories are all of a type, involving a sharply-dressed lawyer meeting with a client who is, absent the lawyer's timely intervention, headed straight for a lifetime in a very scary prison. I use the word "lawyer" here advisedly, as Martin Ehrengraf is not so much a lawyer as a sociopath with a law degree. The author tells us that Ehrengraf seldom sees the inside of a courtroom. It is a wonder that he doesn't see it from the perspective of a criminal defendant, but such is fiction.
The surprise in each of the short stories has nothing to do with courtroom tactics or the details of criminal procedure of even the quite astonishing things that Ehrengraf is prepared to do to secure the innocence of his clients. It has to do, or at least I think, with the relationship between Ehrengraf and his clients, many of whom are as bad as he is (especially when it comes to the oh-so-delicate question of whether they will pay the attorney's exorbitant fee or not).
The stories themselves are just fine--well written, with a droll sensibility that nicely counterpoints Ehrengraf's fastidious nature. But, as the author himself admits, they do tend to follow a certain pattern. The particulars of Ehrengraf's unique law practice are presented again and again. This is perfectly fine for a standalone story, but it is assuredly a very good idea to read each story one at a time, and then break off and read something else for awhile and then come back and read another one. As his clients discover, spending a little time with Martin Ehrengraf can be very valuable, but you wouldn't want him hanging around for too long, for the obvious reason.
Lawrence Block is one of the cleverest writers in the business. In Martin Ehrengraf, Block has created a criminal defense lawyer whose clients are always innnocent, regardless of the crimes they've committed. Ostensibly, it's about a lawyer who resorts to a variety of implied criminal activities (including murder) to exonerate his clients. More subtly, it's about a man who imposes his own view of reality on the world around him. Is he canny or crazy? A villain or a hero? I found the moral ambiguity (as with all of Block's stories) one of the collection's most interesting qualities.
This is a book of short stories and each has a similar structure. You can only have so many variations on this theme before they start to feel stale and Block keeps the count down to eleven, which feels about right. A couple of the stories are very clearly modeled on famous cases. Others seem more subtly drawn from the news, including one very recent story from earlier in 2012. But good stuff in all cases. This is an ebook only and will take only a few days to gobble up.
The 1976 short story “The Ehrengraf Defense” introduced the sly, tidily-dressed lawyer Martin H. Ehrengraf who always believes his clients are innocent and will do anything—ANYTHING—to prove that innocence. These stories are favorites of mine. They are dark and funny. They are also clever mental puzzles. Instead of figuring out the identify of a guilty party, the puzzles here are to figure out how to prove a guilty person innocent in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Make no mistake—Ehrengraf is every bit as evil as the worst of his clients. Part of the fun is finding out just how low he is willing to go to collect his fee. Most of the real dirty work happens off-the-page, which allows Martin to maintain his cultured and fastidious image, creating a sort of cognitive dissonance within the reader’s mind.
In addition to the original “Ehrengraf Defense,” I also highly enjoyed “The Ehrengraf Affirmation” which is a spirited send-up of Block’s own self-help seminar and book Write For Your Life. “The Ehrengraf Nostram” is the best of the tales wherein Ehrengraf frames someone for a crime, only to later have to exonerate that same person. “The Ehrengraf Settlement” reminds you to always pay Martin’s fee on time and in full. Otherwise, the consequences are striking.
In 1994, Lawrence Block collected the first 8 Ehrengraf short stories in Ehrengraf for the Defense. In 2012, this book was expanded and reissued as an e-book (with a print-on-demand option) which featured 3 new stories. This was the version I first read several years ago.
In 2015, Subterranean Press brought out Defender of the Innocent in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats. This version includes a new twelfth story “The Ehrengraf Fandango”. Fandango was nominated for a 2015 Shamus award, but it lost to “Clear Recent History” by Gon Ben Ari.
I read “Fandango” on my Kindle, then listened to the whole 12-story collection from the beginning on audiobook. The reading by Don Sobczak was spot-on: dry and matter-of-fact, no matter how outlandish the implications of the material.
These stories all follow a similar formula and can seem repetitive if you read them straight through. I recommend spreading them out over several days for maximum enjoyment. Highly recommended.
Was previously unaware of this Block series, but found it for free in the Scribd subscription service [this link gets us both a free month if you want to try it out].
A criminal lawyer (in both senses) who takes cases on a no-win, no-fee basis, and then does anything to make sure he collects. A nice, typically Block-ian premise, well executed, although as a collection of short-stories it not only tends to become a little repetitive after a while, but doesn't give much scope for digging more deeply into the character. Would be great to see a more Keller-esque follow-up, rather than just a few more shorts.
These stories are awesome, when taken one at a time. They are about a defense attorney who believes everyone of his clients his innocents, and will do anything to prove, even kill and frame others in horrible ways to make sure the world knows his client is innocent. They are fun and evil, but all together they become the same story, they lose their originality. Don't read the stories all at once, space them out. Take a long a time in reading them, that will keep the freshness going.
I love Ehrengraf! He is my favorite Block character, even more than Matt Scudder. The impeccably dressed defense attorney who's client is always innocent is sinister delight. I won't spoil the stories by even hinting what goes on. Just read them for yourself. Hopefully, as I did, you will have a sadness of heart in the knowledge that Mr Block will probably pen no more adventures. One can always hope, however. Nevertheless, I intend to read these tales again and again. They are sheer delight.