Resume Speed – Lawrence Block
A man gets on the Trailways bus in Galbraith, North Dakota. When he gets off in the small Montana town of Cross Creek, he calls himself Bill Thompson. The “Help Wanted” sign in the front window of a Greek-styled diner called out to him; soon enough he’s got the job as the diner’s fry cook, a room at the local boarding house, two ounces of bourbon every night, and a budding romance with the local librarian. Everything he’s ever wanted in life. Everything he’s ever needed. But what he doesn’t have is peace of mind—the mystery of what happened that night in Galbraith nags at him, soiling his conscience. He’s kept up at night by the thought that his past—whatever it was—might catch up with him. This new life stretching out before him may always be in danger…
Lawrence Block has returned to form here, and written a quiet but hard-hitting novella. You might not be able to tell at first glance at the summary—a drifter arrives in town and his life starts to go right for a change—but the darker, deeper elements of the story Resume Speed uses elements that Block’s used since his earliest days—the man with a mysterious past, alcoholism, the Trailways bus, dark fears hiding beneath the veneer of small-town America—but the presentation of this novella is what makes it so good. You might not be able to tell at first glance at the summary—a drifter arrives in town and his life starts to go right for a change—but the darker, deeper elements lead to a moody and atmospheric story. Those brooding noir undertones and moody atmosphere combines well with the intimate focus and minimalist prose. The way Block tells the story through hints and subtext is masterful, always letting the truth peek through but never letting it into the light. There’s not a lot of action here, and instead the novella works as a contemplative character study, a psychological noir propelled by the reader’s hopes for Bill’s future and fears of his past.
Resume Speed is short even for a novella at 21,000 words, but it does not lack the punch of Block’s longer works. The story doesn’t overstay its welcome or overplay its hand—it remains a sharp, bleak portrait of a man running from his secrets even as his runs towards his future, contrasting his hope for a better new life with the darkness of his past. It is without a doubt one of the best and most effective stories I’ve ever read by Block. (Though I haven’t read all the Scudder novels, so take that with a grain of salt.) The story is well-told and effective, and I was hooked by its sparse prose and foreboding atmosphere. Resume Speed is a cracking slow-burn story, one I’d recommend not just to Block’s fans but to anyone who enjoys a bleak noir tale.
Resume Speed was released as a Kindle Single early this year; it will be available as a trade hardcover from Subterranean Press at the end of the month, and preorders are still available.
Title: Resume Speed
Editor: Lawrence Block
First Published: 16 February 2016
What I Read: Subterranean Press ebook
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC via NetGalley/SubPress)
MSRP: $25 hc / $2.99 ebook
ISBN / ASIN: 1596067950 / B01BVQS3A0