Block, Lawrence. A Drop of the Hard Stuff.

NY: Little, Brown, 2011.

After All the Flowers Are Dying (2005), I kind of wondered how the author would deal with Matt Scudder’s advancing age (he would be 72 in 2011), his contented marriage, the dying off of so many of his friends and colleagues — even the major changes in the character of New York itself, which has been a major part of the series since its beginning thirty years ago.

Well, Block’s solution seems to be to allow Matt to ease into retirement but to have him tell stories of his earlier cases — and it works for me.

The setting this time is around 1970, when Scudder is coming up on the completion of his first year of sobriety. (Alcoholism and Matt’s struggle against it has always been a major theme in the series, too.) This is also before he met Mick Ballou and before he got back together with Elaine, so the concentration is on Scudder himself and his personal demons. It’s a psychologically dangerous time for any recovering alcoholic (you’re never an “ex-alcoholic”) and Jim Faber, his sponsor and unfailing support, is trying hard to keep him pointed in the right direction. Then, at one of his meetings, Matt bumps into Jack Ellery, a childhood friend who slid into crime. Ellery has reached the “making amends” step in his own recovery program — but a few days later he’s dead, shot in the head and the mouth (the obvious message being “don’t talk”). Jack’s own sponsor, Greg Stillman, has a list of names of those whom Ellery thought he owed amends to, and it seems likely that there was a serious crime involved somewhere in the past that someone doesn’t want attention being brought to. This is what Scudder knows how to do — walk and take the subway all over the Five Boroughs, talk to people, poke into things, consult with his cop friends (who frankly aren’t making much of an effort to solve the killing of a low-level crook), and then sit in his hotel room and think and try to make sense of it all. And, as in so many of Scudder’s cases, there’s not necessarily going to be a clean, clear-cut ending, even when the case has been more or less solved. The narrative is rather low-key and the pace is slow, but that also describes Matt Scudder. Anyway, the characters (many of whom we’ve seen before) and the wry dialogue make for a very enjoyable book. And I hope Block has a few more of these early cases on his back burner.

Published in: on 7 October 2012 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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