My tour of the Matthew Scudder series continues. Many think this is where Lawrence Block made the proverbial leap with these books in terms of quality. That’s probably true; this is far and away the best written book of the series so far. It’s concise and tight. I was engaged the whole time.
However, I still think this one falls short of greatness, mostly because of the ending but we’ll get there.
Anyway, alcoholic ex-cop and amateur PI Matthew Scudder maneuvers through the bleak landscape of early-80s New York City, trying to find out who killed a prostitute in brutal fashion. Normally, this is a red flag for me. I’ve largely sworn off books that feature murdered women and/or children. They’re cliched, exhausting, stereotype-extending and just not for me. But I do like this series a lot so I soldiered on with it.
Block is really good at making Scudder and his other characters feel fully realized. There’s not a lot of Woe this city! Woe it’s darkness! And these sweet angels who become whores! Certainly, there’s the garden variety misogyny of the male characters but Scudder is no avenging angel, as he makes it clear several times. He takes the case to prevent himself from going on drinking binges.
There is a bit too much ruminating on how awful 80s New York is. But I’ll allow it as the book was actually written for its time and not retrospectively.
This one winds and winds itself deeper and I genuinely had no idea where it was going until the last 50 pages or so. The killer’s reveal is a surprise but the motives…eh. It felt like a lot of work (again, this is really well plotted) for a meh payoff. A somewhat predictable payoff in the “how,” not the “who.” And one that leaned hard into another stereotype that I hate but can’t reveal without spoilers.
It didn’t disappoint. It left me engaged until the end. But I hope the next one doesn’t involve more brutalized women.