Block, Lawrence. A Long Line of Dead Men.

NY: Morrow, 1994.

The set-up for this entry in the series featuring Matt Scudder, unlicensed private eye, is fascinating. More than thirty years ago in New York — in May 1961, to be exact — an old man brings together thirty young men to form a club, the only purpose of which is to meet once a year for dinner and to note which of their number have passed away since the last meeting.

When the next-to-last member dies, hopefully years from now, the last survivor has the duty of selecting thirty young men and beginning the next round. It’s a rolling tontine and it’s been going on for centuries, at least. (Block has obviously read Thomas Costain’s The Tontine and Elaine, Matt’s lady, actually says as much.) The members of the club’s current incarnation are in their 50s now, and they’re all reasonably successful, but there are only fourteen of them left — a startlingly high rate of attrition, and they’re beginning to become aware that they’re beating the actuarial odds in the wrong direction. Is someone actively reducing the membership? Scudder gets hired to find out, which he does with his usual methods — mostly walking and taking the subway all over the five boroughs and talking to lots and lots of people. As a now long-time recovering alcoholic (you never get “cured”), he also attends AA meetings wherever he goes, and this time he gets involved with a young private security cop with an apparent drinking problem whom he takes under his wing.

The story is nicely paced, the plot-line is well thought out, the several main supporting characters are very well developed. In fact, TJ, the black streetwise teenager who has become almost a trainee detective, is one of my favorite Block characters. Elaine has a nice role this time, too, in “Marilyn’s Chamber.” A very hot lady. Oh, and we’re explicitly told, finally, that Scudder was born in May 1939, which means that in 2012 he’s seventy-two and apparently still going strong. And the last couple of chapters of the book will really get your attention on at least three counts. This is easily of the best two or three novels in the series.

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Published in: on 13 August 2012 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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