Block, Lawrence. Even the Wicked.

NY: HarperCollins, 1997.

This entry in the now-lengthy series featuring Matt Scudder, ex-NYPD cop, recovering alcoholic, and unconventional private investigator, is okay, but it tries too hard. Not a bad story, really, but not one of Block’s best. Of course, Scudder has changed a good deal over the series.

He’s no longer living in his small hotel room (though he keeps paying the rent on it because it’s so cheap), he now has a proper PI license (which means paying taxes and keeping records), and — most important — he’s now ensconced in a very nice apartment with his wife, Elaine, the former hooker whom he has known for years. All this cleaning-up, unfortunately, makes Scudder rather more middle-class and a bit less interesting as a character, for all that he still hangs out with Mick Ballou, career criminal and stone killer.

One of the two plots this time turns on a vigilante serial killer who writes letters to a newspaper columnist denouncing someone whom he (and, as it turns out, the city) believes the world would be a better place without. Then he carries out his sentence. Most New Yorkers don’t feel threatened because they aren’t the sort of high-profile scum Will (as in “Will of the People”) selects as targets. Still, catching him is the highest priority of the police. Then, for complicated reasons, a lawyer of his acquaintance wants to hire Matt to try to catch the vigilante, and he accepts. And that’s the problem right there. Does Scudder really think a lone investigator, lacking all the resources and manpower of the PD, would really have a chance of cracking the case? Actually, he doesn’t seem to think so, not really, but he takes the case anyway.

At the same time, a man dying of AIDS was shot dead while sitting quietly in the park across from his apartment and the killer got away free. The victim’s close friend, a woman of Matt’s acquaintance through AA, wants the shooter found and so he takes on that case, too. And it’s actually a good deal more interesting than the first one, taking the reader into social and legal issues that didn’t even exist when Block began writing this series. So, he’s batting .500 in this one, and while that’s still well ahead of most authors, it’s really not up to Block’s standard.

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Published in: on 1 September 2012 at 6:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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