I wanna start backwards and focus on the end of this book, even though I won’t spoil anything.
I’m appreciative of Lawrence Block’s ability to always give the Matthew Scudder novels a fresh, unique ending. Each one has its own twist that I didn’t see coming or, while I may have guessed what exactly was coming, still surprised me with its execution. That’s a big reason why I’ve come to love these books, along with the great New York atmosphere, and the genuine complexity of the protagonist (sometimes antihero). There’s no reinventing the wheel but it’s a wheel that consistently works.
This one goes a lot of different directions. I could almost see Block struggling with the plot, as if he’s unsure of where to take it. But that’s what editing is for. In some ways, it’s a pastiche of stories that comes back to the familiar question: Who are we? The greatest mystery for Matthew is trying to identify both who killed this man and who the man was in the first place that led to the unlikely murder.
Along the way, Matthew discovers some things about himself, things that he might like to keep private. Scudder is weirdly introspective. On the surface, you know everything the man is thinking, and yet you never know when he’ll cower to impulsive behavior. It makes for an exciting read. This is one of my favorites of the series.
An aside but an important one: there’s a transgender character here who has a medium-sized role. Scudder and another cismale character, won’t say which one, wind up having a conversation about human sexuality and orientation. I don’t want to hail Block as HASHTAG WOKE or give it more credence than it deserves; it’s very 90s. However, it attempts to broaden the idea of sexuality beyond body parts and encourages its characters, and its audience perhaps(?) to be more open-minded. Since most trans plots in this era (and still today) usually involve tragedy or violence, I figured this was worth noting.