And so I come full circle with the Matthew Scudder series, for though my re-read will go into 2025 (if I’m fortunate to live that long), this was the first one I read, almost 15 years ago.
It didn’t start me down the path. Like my impressions with the first two, I found it derivative. Alcoholic PI, knight errant ex-cop, dirty New York, women killed, etc.
But on re-reads, I see what Block was doing. I’m not sure he intended to set up a series; he sold the first three not knowing that this would become a series. But it’s a good thing he did, not only for me the reader but for him as a writer because he already has a firm grasp of Matt’s character and his milieu.
And again, what I found derivative in the first one works here: Scudder takes a broad look at NYPD corruption (endemic in the 70s during the era of Serpico), sex work, New York City and the human race in general. There’s the kind of lofi existentialism that peppers these books and makes them great.
Also, the mystery was more compelling than I originally recalled. While this makes two dead female sex workers in his first three books — not a good look — Block is careful not to let the audience get titillated with the woman’s past or see her as some kind of fallen angel. He’s simply trying to solve her murder.
I did not expect my return to this series to go the way it has, with me loving the first three novels more than I recall. A Stab in the Dark is next and that was the first Scudder book I really took to so it will be interesting to see how my views on that will be when I’m done with it.