Doak Miller logged twenty-plus years with the NYPD and enjoyed it. During that time, he was married to Doreen, which he didn’t enjoy as much, leading to the occasional extramarital tryst. Not that he went out of his way to be adulterous, but as the opportunity arose, he willingly took the plunge again…and again.
Once their children were grown, his wife surprised him by filing for divorce. The aimless forty-eight-year-old Doak semiretired to Florida, harboring a romantic notion of developing a love-struck connection with the right woman where they’d end up “riding off together.”
An opportunity to fulfill his long-held desire arises from an unlikely source—a part-time gig with the local police force doing the occasional odd job for their sheriff named Radburn. Since his out-of-town affords him a certain amount of unrecognizability, he’s commissioned to play hitman for a woman named Lisa Otterbein (née Yarrow) who wants her husband George to grab some permanent rest.
Set-up: Doak meets said woman wearing a wire and records her request to off her hubby. But, he is straightaway smitten with the beauty (if you take a look at the late Glen Orbik’s marvelous cover, you will see why). The wannabe romantic decides Lisa’s the one he’s been waiting for all along. He sabotages the sting, thereby beginning a relationship with the blue-eyed stunner.
Doak may be a dreamer, but he’s also practical. He realizes that even though Lisa has “changed her mind” about killing her husband, that doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to abandon her life or affluent digs—even for him.
Picture Lisa Yarrow on Osprey Drive?
No, I don’t think so. But what if you flip the negative.
Could you picture Doak Miller leaning back in a recliner on a couple acres of lawn? With a big stone house behind him, and a pond, and a rail fence?
How would that strike the eye?
Lawrence Block adds generous helpings of subplot as Doak implements a scheme to secure the girl of his dreams and get rich in the process. The undercover contractor has a “friends with benefits” relationship with a woman named Barb, and after Doak betrays her sex talk to Lisa, he discovers Lisa finds it stimulating. Then, there’s Roberta, a sexy and pregnant woman Doak bumped into working a case, who also becomes fodder for Lisa’s and his lecherous fantasies. Multiple threads all begin linking when Sheriff Radburn’s suspicion grows as to why Lisa backed out of hiring a hitman to kill her spouse. He tells Doak:
…That husband of hers dies of anything, any damn thing from galloping diarrhea to a flash flood, she’ll be hearing her Miranda rights before the body gets to room temperature. Which is fine from our point of view, but it doesn’t do a lot for George, does it.
Radburn rehires Doak to poke his nose into the case a bit further, not knowing he’s just thrown a spanner in the works.
Lawrence Block’s previous Hard Case Crime novels (my favorite also sporting a John D. Macdonald sounding title, The Girl with the Long Green Heart) are all top efforts, but The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes is hands down the finest Block/Hard Case to date. Twenty chapters in and I wasn’t one hundred percent sure where this plot was headed; the Doak Miller slide from fairly honest to reprehensible was plausible, and all side roads leading to the finale were constructed as taut as the primary storyline.
Lawrence Block is arguably the best crime writer living today, and he has just proven it again.
David Cranmer aka Edward A. Grainger is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP books http://www.beattoapulp.com/ and writer of the forthcoming The Drifter Detective #7: Torn and Frayed. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.