Review of Lawrence Block’s Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man

If I was asked to recreate Mount Rushmore using the faces of my four favorite authors, the monument would include Stephen King (no introduction needed), Ed McBain (prolific writer of crime fiction, best known for his 87th Precinct police procedurals), Joe Abercrombie (the best fantasy writer working today; yes, even better than George R. R. Martin), and Lawrence Block.

[Sorry, gents.  I couldn’t help myself. From left to right: McBain, King, Abercrombie, Block]

Like Stephen King, Lawrence Block shouldn’t require an introduction, yet I’m guessing far too many people haven’t read his work before. Author of over one hundred books and editor of a gaggle of anthologies, Block’s career is one of legend. He’s written some of the most beloved crime characters of all-time, from Matthew Scudder (alcoholic ex-cop turned private investigator) and hit-man John Keller to Martin Ehrengraf (a lawyer who wins every case, using some very unconventional methods) and bumbling burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. Block has won multiple individual awards (Edgar, Shamus, MWA, Anthony, etc.) as well as Grandmaster and Lifetime Achievement awards from every major organization in the mystery genre. Hell, it would be easier to list the awards he hasn’t won versus the ones he’s notched on his belt.

In short, Block is a god among men, churning out some of the most entertaining fiction you’re likely to find.

One of my favorite books from last year was a novella entitled Resume Speed, which was a bit of a departure from normal Block-fare in that it was more understated than his other work. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of a man on the run from his past, seeking to start over and lead a normal life. For those looking to dip a toe into Block’s vast pool of work, I think Resume Speed would be a good place to start.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man. The tale is told in the epistolary format (i.e. via letters, memos, etc. as opposed to a typical narrative), a storytelling method that I love. As the book opens, Laurence Clarke – the novel’s main character – has both lost his job and had his wife run off with his best friend, all on the same morning. Suffering from writer’s block leading up to his disastrous day, Laurence finds that the floodgates have been thrown wide open when he sits down at his typewriter to compose letter after letter to the people in his life: an ex-wife looking for alimony, the boss who fired him, his current wife, and the friend who stole her away.

What follows is a riotous book that reads as a huge “fuck you” to everyone who has wronged Laurence. The letters are both nasty and devious as Clarke makes each person’s life a living hell: sowing seeds of doubt in his wife’s/friend’s new relationship, goading his ex-wife and her father, and contacting his former place of employment.

In all my years of reading I have never – and I mean never — read a book that made me laugh out loud as much as Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man. Laurence’s insidious notes are filled with both subtle and overt jabs at his nemeses, and his creative methods of wreaking havoc in their lives left me in stitches. I can see Block as he wrote this novel, a gleam in his eye and a mad grin on his face, letting his character launch salvo after salvo at his victims. It had to be a blast to write, and I have no doubt the book’s readers could feel that twisted glee and envision themselves going on a similar offensive at some point in their lives. I know I did!

The novel is short, which works to its benefit. Keeping the hijinks going at a high level would be difficult at a longer length, and even proved tricky as-is. Somewhere around the 75% mark the correspondence grew weaker for me, showing both a lack of humor and a bit of repetition (one stretch contained letters Laurence wrote to a cadre of new lovers, all of which were similar in tone and content). That being said, the novel finished strong, giving readers a satisfying conclusion to the tale.

One note of warning: Block’s writing is known for over-the-top sexual encounters, and Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man is no exception. Hell, it’s right up there with the best of them (or worst, depending on your point of view). Some authors shoehorn sex scenes into their writing and they serve no purpose; in this case, the situations enhance the story’s humor and make for a better reading experience.

Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man has become one of my favorite standalone Block novels. It’s silly, it’s petty, and it’s mean-spirited…all of which makes it an absolute blast to read. I give it an 8 out of 10 and heartily recommend it to those who could use a good chuckle (again, assuming you can handle the sex scenes).

Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man
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Resume Speed
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Until we meet again…


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