Block, Lawrence. In the Midst of Death.

NY: Avon, 1976.

This is the third outing for Matthew Scudder, late of the NYPD and now living in a mediocre hotel room and working occasionally as an unofficial private detective (he hates licenses and making reports and filing taxes on his earnings). It’s quite short, less than 200 pages, dating from a time before Block’s best and most popular character had really crawled out of his chrysalis and assumed his later form.

But, for the most part, it’s not a bad story for all that. Jerry Broadfield is a cop who (he says) got fed up with the corruption in the department and went to the Special Prosecutor, who was delighted to hear his story. But then a young prostitute files charges that he was shaking her down for cash and sex, and Broadfield goes into hiding and engages Scudder to find out who put her up to it. And barely has he started on that when the girl is murdered in his client’s own apartment and Broadfield’s in the Tombs. Matt doesn’t especially like the guy — he’s much too full of himself — but he doesn’t consider him stupid, either. And that would be a really stupid way to kill someone. So he takes on this suddenly much more important case — in which he gets absolutely no help from the police who, typically, would like to see Broadfield dead for “betraying” his badge (i.e., ratting out the bent cops). In fact, it may well be that the murderers were cops themselves. (Block certainly knows that cops behave as they always have.) The plot is increasingly complex from this point, not only in the investigation but in the physical relationship between Scudder and Broadfield’s wife, which is unexpected for both of them — and actually not very convincing, I don’t think. But Matthew is the only character who is clearly formed. Broadfield, his wife, Scudder’s old friends on the force, the other prostitute with whom he’s had a friendly relationship for years, the people he investigates, and even the eventually-identified killer (who came out of left field as far as I was concerned), are fuzzy at best. Block’s greatest skill, probably, is in-depth, deeply multi-dimensional characterization. But not this time. I’ve re-read all the books in the series and, like all of them, this one is certainly worth a read — but only once.

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Published in: on 23 March 2012 at 6:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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