RARA-AVIS: Babe in the Woods -- William Ard (Ghosted by Lawrence Block)

From: James Reasoner ( jamesreasoner@flash.net)
Date: 04 Nov 2007

Here are some comments from my blog about another early Lawrence Block novel, although I'm not sure how much of it he actually wrote:

This is the third book in the Lou Largo series. Some sources say that William Ard started it and that it was finished by Lawrence Block after Ard's death. Other sources give sole credit for it to Block. The copyright is by the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, so it's not surprising that Block would be involved, even if the extent of his involvement isn't known for sure.

Lou Largo is a New York private eye with all the usual attributes. He's big, tough, ruggedly handsome, and irresistible to the ladies. In this book he gets mixed up with a pair of beautiful Hungarian sisters, LiLi and LuLu Kovar, who are pretty blatantly based on the Gabor sisters. Famous actress LiLi Kovar is in some sort of trouble, and Largo is hired to accompany her on a trip to Germany, where she's supposed to make a movie, so that he can protect her and find out what's wrong. There's not much mystery here, as the plot is revealed to the reader very early on: LiLi is being blackmailed by Soviet agents who are threatening the life of her father, Hungarian resistance leader Stephen Kovar, who has been in a Budapest prison for the past five years.

Most of the book takes place on board a ship crossing the Atlantic, bound for Germany. There are several murders, a couple of attempts on Largo's life, and numerous beautiful women trying to get into his bed. Eventually everybody winds up in East Berlin, where a shootout finally resolves everything.

Sometimes I think that I'm too caught up in nostalgia, too willing to overlook the flaws in older books and too quick to criticize current ones. But then a book like this comes along to prove that's not true all the time. This is not a very good book at all, and if I hadn't known that Lawrence Block had something to do with it, I never would have guessed at his involvement. Other than a few nice turns of phrase, this is thoroughly undistinguished stuff, and I had to struggle to finish it. Decent imitation McGinnis cover, though. At least I think it's an imitation and not the real thing, but I'm not enough of an expert on cover art to be sure. Some of the other Lou Largo books may be better, but I didn't care for this one.

James Reasoner

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