'Borderline': 1970s noir's still dark in audiobook telling

Author Lawrence Block recently put out a call to reviewers via social media.

He was looking for folks willing to review the audiobook version “Borderline,” a novel first published under a pseudonym in 1962 and republished earlier this year by Hard Case Crime.

I’ve been an audiobook fan — and a Lawrence Block fan — for a long time, so I was happy to respond to the author’s request.

Block, who over the last several years has been fully engaged with the rush of changes in the publishing industry, found himself trying something new for the “Borderline” audiobook. As he wrote on his blog:

“One copy of ‘Borderline’ found its way to Mike Dennis, a voice artist with a soft spot for hardboiled noir. He got in touch to express enthusiasm, and included his rendition of the first ten minutes of the book. I loved what I heard, and Amazon’s ACX platform provided a way for me to self-publish ‘Borderline’ as an audiobook. I engaged Mike to narrate and produce ... (and he) delivered an outstanding reading.”

By and large, Block is right about Dennis’ performance. The voice artist has the deep but nearly affectless voice that one associates with dark and violent noir tales.

His only weakness may be women’s voices.

While the character of Meg is convincingly voiced (as is the leading female in a short whodunit also included in the book), two other key female characters, Lily and Cassie, sound less natural. This is perhaps to be expected given Dennis’ low pitched voice.

The story Dennis narrates is filled with sex and violence, much of it graphically portrayed.

“Borderline” will remind Block’s fans of books like “Small Town” and “Getting Off.” Though “Borderline” was written much earlier in Block’s career than either of those two novels, it more than nods at his mature style.

It’s a well-constructed, sharply-written descent into debauchery and murder, sure to thrill noir fans whether they read it with their eyes or their ears.

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