58. RESUME SPEED by Lawrence Block. There are many facets of fiction-writing that Lawrence Block is an acknowledged master of, in either short story or novel form or both. One of those is the "slow boil," especially in his shorter fiction. I realize that sounds like a contradiction in terms: how can a short piece have slower builds than a novel? The thing with a novel is, the slow build of tension is a necessity. The author has to set several plots to heating, and has to fill several hundred pages before any of them can come to a full boil. In novellas and short stories, that type of gradual increase in tension is much harder to pull off, and Block usually manages it well. So it's no surprise he does that here. In a scant 50 or so pages (Amazon says 60, but that includes cover and end matter), he introduces us to Bill Thompson, a wandering man. Bill is a nice guy, a hard worker, a charmer. But he's on the run from something. Block lets us go for almost half the story before we even start to get hints as to what that might be ... and it's not frustrating at all. We're so engrossed in how Bill is settling into this small Montana town that he picked simply because he saw a "help wanted" sign in a restaurant window as his bus glided through town, that we're not really paying attention to the small clues the author is dropping that something's not quite right.
This novella is also a quiet story. No gunfights, no graphic sex (the main character does have sex, but Block modestly glosses over it), no thefts, not even a bar-fight. And that makes the slow boil even more effective. Because of how intimate and quiet and nice most of the story is, because of how "in Bill's head" we get, the ending hits even harder. I saw what was coming, hoped to hell I was wrong, and walked away feelling it was both inexorable and inevitable.