I suppose I could say that Lawrence Block’s Small Town is a novel about an attractive, middle-aged art gallery owner who awakens to her sexual potential and becomes something of a dominatrix. Or I could say it is a novel about a mildly successful writer who is accused of murdering a real estate agent. Or perhaps I could say the novel is about his literary agent who succeeds in parlaying the publicity surrounding his arrest into a three million dollar book contract. Or maybe I should say that the novel is about an elderly man who loses his entire family in the 9/11 twin tower attacks and then sets off on a murderous rampage in which he seeks to help other New Yorkers make the appropriate sacrifice needed to save their great city. Because Small Town is all of these things and more.
Set in New York City in the spring, summer and early fall of 2002, the novel begins with a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes, beginning with a young gay man who is in recovery (from alcohol and drug addiction) and who makes his living cleaning three bars and a small, discrete whore house very early every morning, then cleaning a small number of residential apartments during the day. One day he goes to clean the apartment of the real estate agent and is most of the way through with the job when he discovers the client dead in her bed in the bedroom. From there Block takes off, a few pages on this character then a few pages on some other character.
Block does an amazing job of whipping together many different and disparate New Yorkers into a delightful froth and of course manages to tie them all together with no lose ends by the final page. This book will definitely appeal to fans of Block’s earlier mysteries as well as to anyone who enjoys a great page turner. At 450 pages, the novel is a good bit longer than Block’s earlier Burglar and Scudder novels and would be an ideal book to take along on a long airplane flight. Small Town–Highly Recommended