Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Off Topic---Classic Detective Fiction: A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder

A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Lawrence Block, Mulholland Books Inc., May 2011, 338 pages, $25.99.

Lawrence Block is an contemporary American crime writer who is known worldwide. He is best known for two long-running about the recovering alcoholic P.I. Matthew Scudder and gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, respectively. Both series are set in New York City. Block received the Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America award in 1993.

Block's most famous creation is Matthew Scudder, was introduced in 1976's The Sins of the Fathers as an alcoholic ex-cop working as an unlicensed private investigator in NYC' Irish neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. the second and third entries—In the Midst of Death (1976), Time to Murder and Create (1977) and A Stab in the Dark 91981). All four were originally published as paperbacks without hardcover editions.

In 1982's Eight Million Ways to Die was the first hardcover in the Scudder series. The novel concludes with Scudder introducing himself at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Blocked considered the series at an end. A promise Block made to publisher to produce a short resulted in "By the Dawn's Early Light", a story set during Scudder's drinking days; the short story is told from the perspective of a recovering alcoholic which lead to the next novel in the series.

Block tell Scudder's movement from becoming an alcoholic to becoming a recovering alcoholic in 1986's When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, a title borrowed from Dave Van Ronk's lyrics. It was this novel that gave Block and Scudder a much wider audience, especially among those who enjoy a more literary story. From then on, Scudder's circumstances rarely remain the same from one book to the next; 1990's A Ticket to the Boneyard, for example, reunites him with a hooker from his days on the force, whom he marries several books later.

Other high points are 1991's taut, gruesome A Dance at the Slaughterhouse that won Edgar award for best Mystery Novel. In 1993's A Long Line of Dead Men, an ingeniously-plotted puzzler featuring a rapidly dwindling fraternity known as the "Club of 31." The sixteenth in the series, All the Flowers Are Dying, was published 2005 was grim and bleak. One could image that the series was over. But the seventeenth Scudder novel, A Drop of the Hard Stuff is here.

Set soon after Scudder abruptly retires from the detective bureau, he is facing his alcoholism. Then he runs into "High-Low" Jack Ellery, a childhood friend from the Bronx and they view each other as two sides of the same coin: Scudder solves crimes Ellery commits them. In Scudder, Ellery sees an honest man; in Ellery, Scudder sees a recovering alcoholic. Then Ellery is murdered. With no family and with a criminal past, Ellery's murder isn't a pressing issue for the NYC PD. Scudder has only one lead, a list of list of people Ellery abused. Themes lost loves, missed opportunities, and avoiding tough choices reoccur from the series.

CWL has read the entire series twice. The series is on both the bookshelf and in the Kindle. The plots are the transmission, the style is the style is the engine, and the character is the driver. CWL imagines a third reading of the series in the distant future right along with third readings Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald and The King James Version of the Bible.

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