Block, Lawrence. A Stab in the Dark.

NY: Arbor House, 1981.

Nine years ago, there was a series of killings in New York City by some unknown lunatic whom the papers dubbed the Icepick Prowler, because of the weapon used. Then they stopped. The killer “went out of business,” as the cops put it. One of the murders was of a young mother named Barbara Ettinger, and her bereaved father finally got used to the idea that her killer would most likely never be found.

Then, out of the blue, after almost a decade, a guy gets picked up who has been in a mental hospital for years, and he has an ice pick in his pocket and the police question him about it. And he cops to the killings nine years earlier — all but one. He didn’t kill Barbara Ettinger, and he has an ironclad alibi for that one. It appears now that she was killed for a specific reason, and by someone she knew, and her father has a new nightmare to try to deal with. And so he comes to Matthew Scudder, ex-cop, unofficial private detective, and alcoholic, to see what he can turn up on this very cold case. Matt handles all his cases the same way. He walks or takes the subway around the city, he talks to lots and lots of people, and he sits in the handiest bar and thinks about things. He has good instincts and he generally gets things right — eventually. Was the woman killed by her philandering husband? By her unknown lover? By the woman she worked for at a day car center, who later became a part-time lesbian? By her own sister? By the woman who became her widowed husband’s second wife? Actually, the investigation carries on right down to the last couple of pages without Block tipping his hand. At that point, I could make a case for several of the suspects but I had no idea, really, whodunit. Like all the first few Scudder novels, it’s not a terribly long book, barely 150 pages. Call it a novella, or a novelette. But it seems just the right length for the story. And while it doesn’t have the depth or the heft of the later books in the series, it’s a perfectly satisfying afternoon’s read.

Published in: on 13 April 2012 at 5:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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