Block, Lawrence. The Devil Knows You’re Dead.

NY: HarperCollins, 1993.

Block’s detective stories featuring Matthew Scudder are often a bit unlike the usual murder mystery, and this is one of those in that the solution, when it finally appears — even the crime itself, in fact — are almost peripheral to the main story. Matt and his long-time girlfriend, Elaine, have a brief, passing social relationship with Glenn and Lisa Holtzmann who live in a nice high-rise apartment in the same neighborhood. And Matt doesn’t much like the guy, though he can’t say why.

And then Holtzmann is shot to death at a pay phone on the street and a homeless veteran is charged with the killing. But the latter’s brother doesn’t necessarily believe it and he hires Scudder to look into things. It seems to be an open and shut case — even the vagrant under arrest admits he might well have done it, he just can’t remember — but Scudder has a way of shaking an investigation until something useful falls out. And to understand a crime, you have to understand the victim, so he begins poking into Glenn’s past. Where did he get all that money? Why did he lie to everyone, including his new wife? Matt has a way of teasing out information about the past and his understanding of New York and its inhabitants is very deep indeed.

But the real story mostly revolves around Scudder’s own relationships with Elaine, retired call girl with considerable investments, and with Jan, an ex-girlfriend who is now dying of cancer, and with Lisa, Holtzmann’s attractive and lonely widow, and with Jim Faber, his sponsor in AA who regularly lays unwelcome truths on him, and with Mick Ballou, a career criminal and the closest thing Matt has to a best friend, and even with Drew Kaplan, his Brooklyn lawyer. If this is your first Scudder novel, most of the nuances of Block’s narrative this time are likely to go right over your head. But if you’ve read the whole series from the beginning, you already know a good deal about all these people and about their shared histories with Scudder. And in that case you’ll find a great deal here to enjoy. The author is less interested this time in telling a mystery story and more interested in exploring his characters. It’s a rather quiet story, no sizzling drama, no street fights or car chases, and it gets right into your bones.

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Published in: on 29 July 2012 at 6:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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