HELLCATS AND HONEYGIRLS comprises three novels Lawrence Block and Donald E. Westlake co-wrote early in their careers when they were struggling writers. Marketed as soft core porn, they are actually quite tame compared to even the mildest stuff around today. Sex was the primary subject and not at all graphic. That’s about it.
Within that framework though, we got three novels that showcase two mystery greats learning their craft while earning a living at the same time.
In the introduction, Block talks about his fifty year friendship with Westlake, how they met(with one instance where Westlake saw him before they actually did meet) and how they came to write three novels together and how much fun they had doing it. Living far apart, they never discussed a novel, plot, characters, or anything else. On the first, A GIRL CALLED HONEY, Block simply wrote a chapter and sent the carbon to Westlake. Westlake wrote the second and sent both carbons back to Block. They went back and forth like that until the book came to it’s logical conclusion. On the second title, SO WILLING, they reversed the order with Westlake starting the book.
Block laughingly recalls a time during the process when he’d tired of a Westlake character and killed him off. In the next chapter, Westlake retaliates by having Block’s character arrested for murder. One could tell that the pair were enjoying themselves while learning and making a living. He talks about some of the great lines(and how someone at the publisher changed a name in one that totally screwed up the rhyme in it; restored of course for this edition) that Westlake wrote also.
The first two were published as by Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall according to Block’s introduction. But in looking on the used book sites, it says simply Sheldon Lord for the first. Fantastic Fiction gives that name as a shared pseudonym between the two writers. Who knoes? I’ll go with Block’s remembrance.
The third novel, SIN HELLCAT(not their title but Block didn’t remember the original), is a bit different. It’s my favorite of the three and seems to be Block’s as well. Told in the first person, it chronicles the rise of a young man in the world of advertising when he reconnects with a college girl friend he hadn’t seen in ten years and the ensuing mess they fall into. Each chapter contains a flashback recounting his various relationships through the years from Jodi, the college sweetheart, to Helen, the harridan he married in the mistaken “American Dream.” Sold to a different publisher from the first two, the same byline was put on the manuscript but ended up as by Andrew Shaw.
Over the last few years, I’d become aware of the writers’ early novels, both together and separately, with more on those early efforts coming out all the time, but prices are fairly substantial on the used book sites I understand. So when this Subterranean Press edition became available, I jumped on it.
Worth the price. The book was a lot of fun.