Block, Lawrence. All the Flowers Are Dying.

NY: Morrow, 2005.

All the books in the “Matt Scudder” series are set in his own present day, from 1976 to now, and we know (from internal evidence) that Matt was born in 1939, which means that he became a cop when JFK was in the White House, and in the first book he was in his late thirties, and in 2005 he’s old enough to draw Social Security. He’s getting a little long in the tooth to be entirely credible as the tough streetwise guy he used to be, and he’s apparently beginning to realize that himself.

In the previous volume, Hope to Die, Matt got involved in the case of a serial killer (though it took everyone awhile to realize that that was what they were dealing with) who supposedly (hopefully) was killed in a fire at the end of the story. However, the killer, whose numerous noms-de-crime always included the initials “A. B.,” had a penchant for being cute (leaving elaborate fake clues, etc.) so neither Scudder nor the cops were entirely sure he was really gone for good. And in this sequel we quickly discover that he sure as hell isn’t. If anything, his sociopathic skills have been honed to razor-sharpness. It all starts with Preston Applewhite, one week away from a lethel injection in a Virginia prison for a series of child-torture-murders, but who still is adamant about his innocence. Not that anyone believes him, . . . except the one person who has good reason to know the truth. Back in New York, Scudder, now about three-quarters retired, agrees to look into a matter for a woman in one of his AA groups; she has a boyfriend about whom she’s getting serious but knows virtually nothing about, and (in the classic New York way) her ignorance is making her nervous. And then people Matt knows begin to die (we’ve been here before, haven’t we?) and the various threads of the plot begin to weave themselves together.

As in the previous book, probably half the narrative (and characterizations) are from the Bad Guy’s P.O.V. — kind of a risky strategic decision, but it generally works okay. Better than in the previous book, actually. Matt still has a heroic climax to get through, though.


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