After the First Death Mass Market Paperback – Jul 30 2002
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"Block's fiction is tense and energetic. His stories unfold smoothly and elegantly, with plenty of detail and rich characterization."-Houston Chronicle
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In After the First Death Alex awakes with a killer hangover and has suffered another severe blackout where he cannot remember a thing from the time he started drinking. As he tries to work out where he is and gather his clothing he is shocked to see they are covered in red wine. Closer inspection reveals they are in fact covered in blood and the girl with the slit throat next to the knife covered in blood seems to be the source. Alex has been in this situation before and was recently let out of jail on a technicality after four years for that murder. Like now he blacked out after a heavy drinking session. He was sure he was innocent then, but knows no one will believe him this time round. He isn't even sure of his innocence himself.
If that premise doesn't draw you right in, then I don't know what will. Andy Penn spends a few hectic days trying to elude capture and combing through his past to figure out who might be framing him and why. As you might expect, he's uncovers more than a few secrets and unearths a whole cast of suspicious and unsavory associates.
As crime noir, this book is pitch-perfect. The author has nailed the atmosphere of desperation and violence and futility. The ending is both bleak and hopeful at the same time. As a mystery, it's fairly by-the-numbers but Block is a good enough writer to keep you asking questions and turning pages. It helps that the narrator (and thus the reader) never knows, until the very end, whether he himself could in fact be as guilty as he appears.
The only missing element that prevents this book from being a true noir classic is that Block never lets us glimpse why Alex is so driven to compulsive drinking and whoring. We never learn why a man who had such a seemingly good life became so self-destructive in the first place. Interestingly, Block mentions in the afterward that he wrote this book as a young man, at a time in his life when he battled the same addictions. It is entirely possible he did not understand the demons that controlled his own life, much less that of his fictional protagonist.
Very solid story, with characters that any fan of the genre would not want to miss. Novels like this make me glad that Block has gotten so solidly behind ePublishing, especially with his backlist titles that would be hard to come by otherwise. Money well spent.
The bulk of the book is about how this ordinary guy who isn't really a criminal-type escapes the encircling arm of the law and sets about to decipher the tiny bits of clues that could lead him to the real murderer. On the way, it is almost comic the way he sets out in desperation to figure it out, interviewing his ex-wife, her sister, and his best friend to determine who framed him. It gets really comic later when he decides to return to Times Square and interview the street girls who knew Robin, the corpse in the latest hotel room. Of course, with his photograph plastered all over the front pages, he must don a disguise: an army major on weekend leave in full dress uniform walking around late sixties Times Square trying to interview prostitutes without attracting too much attention.
It is a well-written and compelling read that aptly captures Alex's growing desperation and self-doubt as he poses the ridiculous question of who possibly could have framed not once, but twice, in exactly the same manner. It just misses being a great book, however. There is something missing from the book in terms of richness and depth, kind of like a sundae without the whipped cream and cherry on top. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile read, particularly for those with an interest in crime fiction.
I've read and enjoyed many of Block's books, this one I decidedly didn't.