When I first saw what the plot of this one was, I groaned.
I’ve really grown to love the Matthew Scudder series in the few months that I’ve been pouring through it. They’re great as far as being gritty New York crime tales but Lawrence Block also does a wonderful job of building a world around his recovering alcoholic ex-cop PI. It takes the conventions of PI tales and breaks them just enough to feel lived in. Every story in the series feels unique.
Unfortunately, by book 13 over a series that’s spanned about 20 years to the point where the one was written, even the most clever writers run out of ideas. A populist serial killer that Scudder is hired to track down? Ugh. Block has never done diabolical criminals well on the rare occasion he has done them. His murderers/criminals are usually imbued with life. They do horrible things but they feel like real people, which is what makes the Scudder novels so compelling.
So I wasn’t as excited to read this one as I have been for others in the series. But I should’ve put more faith in the master. Because it’s good.
Now mind you, it’s not as good as some of the better Scudder novels (A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, and Out on the Cutting Edge to name a few). But it’s still compelling, less about the suspense and more about the cases Matthew works to solve and the people he meets along the way. It also shows that Block had no problem downshifting from the heights of grimy Manhattan to capture it in its mid-90s Giuliani led revolution. Seasons change, bars close, Scudder keeps on solving.
Again, this is far from the best in the series and more for lovers than for newbies. But if you love it as I do, you will love this one as well.