A Drop of the Hard Stuff

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I've been reading Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder mystery novels for — well, quite awhile. Mr. Block has slowed down some: the previous Scudder book (All the Flowers Are Dying) came out in 2005, and the one before that (Hope to Die) was published in 2001.

Mr. Block is 74, and has earned the right to write as slowly as he wants. But I also took my time in reading this one (originally published in 2011).

Mr. Block is a gifted storyteller and a impeccable prose stylist. (He's also written a lot of how-to-write stuff.) And Matt Scudder is a compelling protagonist: he started off as an alcoholic ex-cop, wracked by guilt over his accidental shooting of an innocent bystander. To make ends meet, he became an unlicensed private investigator, for which he had enough of a knack to make a living at. Eventually, he joined AA, and even got semi-respectable. This book is mostly a flashback to a few decades back, about a year into Matt's sobriety. He runs into Jack, an childhood acquaintance at an AA meeting, one who came up on the wrong side of the law. Now struggling through AA's 12 steps, he's "making amends". But (unfortunately) something about the step gets Jack gruesomely killed.

Jack's AA sponsor has a list of folks that Jack made for Step 8: "all persons we had harmed". But he doesn't want to give the list to the cops: they might hassle a bunch of innocents needlessly. Scudder is hired to check them out.

Does he eventually solve the murder? Well, sure; he's Scudder. But along the way is a lot of fun, as he meets a bunch of colorful folks and needs to deal with some of his own problems, even the recurring demon of booze.

Next up: A Long Line of Dead Men, a collection of shorter Scudder fiction.

Last Modified 2013-06-19 10:10 AM EDT