I try hard to avoid books that are marketed specifically for older white guys. You know the type because they’re everywhere: lone wolf alpha male, usually with some military or police background, goes on the prowl in a specific terrain to vanquish the bad guy in defense of someone, most commonly a woman. Basically, they’re westerns with different topographies. While I’ve occasionally enjoyed the works of authors such as Lee Child, these books really aren’t my thing.
Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series fits the mold for much of this, indeed that’s why I avoided the series for years. But I’ve been drawn to it this year, in part because of a need for quality New York tales but also because Scudder is different. He doesn’t talk like he’s in an Eastwood movie and there’s rarely a girl involved in the plot that needs avenging. He’s human and trying to hold on to his humanity after years as an alcoholic. His books don’t have that neo-western feel, rather they’re often tales of another down-on-his luck loser in pre-gentification New York trying to make a buck on the side.
Unfortunately, A Ticket to the Boneyard checks in big on the dad scale for the first time in the series. There’s a woman who needs avenging, a serial killer mastermind, and Scudder getting pushed to resolve it all by himself. It felt like lazy plotting in a way these books often have not. Had I started with this one in the series, I likely wouldn’t have finished.
And what’s a shame is the dive into Matthew’s personal life is done quite well. He’s struggling with sobriety, developing a love interest, and trying to figure out his place in the world, the latter of which Block writes so well. He’s reading Marcus Auerlius and understanding him on a street level. I liked seeing this human side of Matthew, for even when he’s screwing up (like slut shaming the woman he’s trying to woo or hanging out in a gangster’s bar), he feels like a fully formed person and not a cynical cypher. This tends to defy the dad stereotype. I don’t need to like or dislike Matthew. I just need to know enough to keep being invested in reading his stories.
And I am. I just hope the next book has a better plot.