The Criminal Type

    On my recent trip to the UK for the Harrogate/Let’s Drink Heavily Festival I read Lemons Never Lie, a Hard Case Crime reprint by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark.  This is not a Parker novel.  Instead it features Alan Grofield, a robbery expert who pulls heists to finance his theater in Indiana.  Grofield is not above committing acts of violence, especially when he or his loved ones have been wronged, but violence does not come quite as easily to him as it does to Parker.  As expected from a book by Mr. Westlake, the prose is clean, the dialogue laced with dry humor, the action comes hard and fast, and there are glimpses into the other side of life that are logical but insightful (if your’e going to steal plates off a car, steal only one; the owner will probabaly not report the theft to the police, but will instead get a new plate from the MVA).  It is also the only crime novel you will read, most likely, that features a hopped-up AMC Javelin as its getaway car.

    MIdway into the book there is a conversation between Grofield, the theater manager, and one of his coworkers, Tebelman, a criminal who is also a talented commerical artist:

   There was a little silence then, until Tebelman said, “You know, there’s a school of thought that says the artist and the criminal are variants on the same basic personality type.  Did you know that?”

   Grofield was sorry now the conversation had gotten started at all.  “No, I didn’t,” he said.

   “That art and cirme are both anti-social acts,” Tebelman said.  “There’s a whole theory about it.  The artist and criminal both divorce themselves from society by their life patterns, they both tend to be loners, they both tend to have brief periods of intense activity and then long periods of rest.  There’s a lot more.”

  “Interesting,” Grofield said.

  Depending on the work habits of the typical novelist, it is not unusual for a writer to be locked in the house for months at a time.  Authors work, for the most part, alone, without the daily give-and-take and human contact of the office life that most experience.  Novel writing is to some degree a socially retarding experience.  So is it, then, an anti-social profession?