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A Drop of the Hard Stuff [Paperback]

Lawrence Block
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2012 Matthew Scudder Novels
"Right up there with Mr. Block's best....A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF keeps us guessing."--Tom Nolan,Wall Street Journal

Facing his demons in his first year of sobriety, Matthew Scudder finds himself on the trail of a killer. When Scudder's childhood friend Jack Ellery is murdered, presumably while attempting to atone for past sins, Scudder reluctantly begins his own investigation, with just one lead: Ellery's Alcoholics Anonymous list of people he wronged. One of them may be a killer, but that's not necessarily Scudder's greatest danger. Immersing himself in Ellery's world may lead him right back to the bar stool.

In a novel widely celebrated by critics and readers, Lawrence Block circle back to how it all began, reestablishing the Matthew Scudder series as one of the pinnacles of American detective fiction.

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Review

"Totally gripping....A great American crime novel."—Ed Park, Time

"Block has so perfected a pared-down, hard-boiled style that this story--about good intentions that backfire, fatally--seems to tell itself."—Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post

Mesmerizing....A lament for all the old familiar things that are now almost lost, almost forgotten."—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

"A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF is a wise and fascinating addition to the Matthew Scudder cannon. It could not be more welcome, nor could it have been written with more understated craftsmanship. The dialogue sounds exactly like things people say to each other, but it isn't. It's better, quicker, smarter. Read this book attentively. It's much more fun than taking lessons."—Thomas Perry

About the Author

Lawrence Block is a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, has won multiple Edgar and Shamus awards and countless international prizes. The author of more than 50 books, he lives in New York City.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome back, Matthew Scudder! June 15 2011
By L. J. Roberts TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
First Sentence: 'I've often wondered,' Mick Ballou said, 'how it would have all gone if I'd taken a different turn.'

A present-day Matt Scudder reminisces with his friend, Mick Ballou about a case in his early days of sobriety, particularly an incident when he was approaching his one-year mark in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Jack Ellery, now at sixteen months sober, was trying to follow each of the twelve steps; including making reparation to others for the harm he had done them. When Jack is murdered, his AA sponsor asks Matt to find out what happened. Doing so nearly costs Matt his sobriety and his life.

The book opens with a thought we have all considered of 'what if?'.

I have missed Scudder. Block has a wonderful use of language, a great voice and does dialogue so well. It is very natural with excellent flow with just the right touch of humor. In talking to a cop about the investigation into Jack's murder'''it is on my plate, and my mother raised me to finish every'.But on the dinner plate of crime, my friend, Jack Ellery is the Brussels sprouts.' There is a delightful exchange involving the confusion over Buddha, the bouncer at a rough bar, and the Buddha sitting under the bodhi tree. His writing includes wonderful quotes, literary references and small truths that sound cliché because they are true, but they make you think.

Block's sense of place and time add to the depth of the story. You needn't have spent time hanging out in after-hours bars as Block takes you there and draws a chair up to the table for you. His knowledge and love of New York City are apparent in every page, but he is as aware of its dark side and flaws as its attractions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fine series ripening May 15 2013
By marshlc
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've been reading this series since the late seventies, when Matt was still getting drunk and lighting candles in churches. Since long before I knew what a large part AA and Alanon would be playing in my own life, in fact. It's a marvel - the only mystery series where alcoholism is more than just a character trait, something like Nero Wolfe's orchids. This book is a fine addition to the series, rounding out a part of Matt's life we don't know too much about. "Eight Million Ways to Die" is still my favourite - a truly remarkable book - but Matt's fans won't be disappointed by this entry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Matthew Scudder returns May 3 2011
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Is there a better writer of dialog than Lawrence Block? No, I didn't think so. And in his latest Matthew Scudder novel, "A Drop of the Hard Stuff", Block returns after a long absence with a new, dynamite Matt Scudder mystery.

Lawrence Block appears to have experienced a "dry" period in his writing. Aside from a memoir called "Step-by-Step", a Keller short story for Kindle, and some reprints of his earlier Hard Case series, we Block-fans haven't heard much from him. And I, for one, have missed him. His book, "A Long Line of Dead Men", published in the early 1990's is, to me, the best detective/mystery book I've read. "Dead Men" was also in the Matt Scudder series.

Matt Scudder is a recovering alcoholic, former policeman for the NYPD, and now a non-licensed private investigator. He has a lady-friend with whom he has an uncertain relationship, and through his under-the-table investigating business, makes a living. The theme throughout the Matt Scudder series is alcoholism. In some books it's more obvious than in others, and in this one, his latest, the plot revolves around AA, the Step program, and the detritus that falls out in people's lives as they live their day-at-a-time lives. Matt is asked to "look into" the murder of a man he knew as a child who had taken a different path as an adult than Matt. Scudder became a policeman, while Jack Ellery became a petty criminal. But both became alcoholics, and as the book opens in the early 1980's, both meet up at an AA meeting. (Actually, the book opens and ends with Scudder relating the story to his friend Mick Ballou in today's New York City).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Amends Sept. 29 2011
By Jonathan Stover TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It's been 35 years (!) since Block's hardboiled Manhattan-based detective Matt Scudder came on the scene. Scudder's adventures have been one of the high points of detective fiction over those years, taking him through near-fatal drinking bouts to hard-won and hard-maintained sobriety, all while solving cases the police have given up on.

Herein, Block returns to a format he first used with Scudder in When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, with the present Scudder narrating a much earlier case. We go to Scudder's first year of sobriety in the early 1980's, just after the events of Eight Million Ways to Die. Sympathetic Irish gangster Mick Ballou cameos as the person to whom Scudder tells the story.

An acquaintance from Scudder's childhood comes back into his life, a small-time hood who's gone sober and now, per the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, is in the 'Amends' phase of his eternal recovery. But someone kills him. His guilt-stricken sponsor, who'd pushed him to work fairly quickly through the 12 Steps, hires Scudder to find out who and why. And off we go.

Block does a lovely job of fleshing out Scudder's early-recovery self throughout the narrative. We also get an in-depth look at the workings of Alcoholics Anonymous and those who've sought it out to save themselves. Booze is as much a nemesis as the hidden murderer for Scudder, and the two dovetail neatly in a climactic sequence.

The ending may not satisfy everybody -- there is closure, but not of the bow-wrapped, justice-always-prevails variety. It satisfied me, but, then, I'm always glad to reacquaint myself with Scudder, and after the super-smart serial killer adversary of a couple of the most recent Scudder novels, I liked seeing things return to a more normative scale. Highly recommended, though it you've never read a Matt Scudder mystery before you should probably start at the beginning with A Stab in the Dark and work your way forward.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  204 reviews
98 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 12 Steps To Murder May 4 2011
By Tom S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder is a detective with a difference. A former NYPD cop whose life spun out of control as a result of alcoholism, he found his way back to the world in two ways, Alcoholics Anonymous and a new job as a private eye. A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, Block's first Scudder book in several years, is actually a long flashback to the difficult time Matt faced right after he joined AA. A childhood acquaintance he meets in "the rooms" is murdered, and Matt sets out to find the killer. Along the way, we get a colorful portrait gallery of people you could only find in New York, a clear explanation of AA and its famous 12 Step program, and vivid descriptions of the mean streets and dark places where the fallen angels hang out.

I love this series. I've been a fan ever since I read Eight Million Ways to Die (Matthew Scudder Mysteries), the book in which Matt first decided to turn his life around. This guy is an inspiration, and A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF is a powerful, beautifully written detective story. Highly recommended.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the master writes we read, enjoy and ponder his greatness. May 15 2011
By Mary J. Gramlich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you are a follower of the Matthew Scudder books you know this series has gone from pay phones to cell phones with every book better than the last. We fans have followed Matt from his cop's days, watched him give up the bottle and find a place in his life with Elaine and his freelance PI work. But the past is always lurking around and there are nights when retelling a part of your past life tends to help make amends with what was.

Mr. Block takes us back to the early days in the Scudder series with this book. We have Matt off the force, a month short of his one-year anniversary with sobriety and doing enough favors for friends to pay the rent and send a little home to his ex-wife. During this time Matt reconnects with a childhood acquaintance that is also walking through each of the steps to alcoholic free life. Matthew is not one to follow each step in order but his friend is on a mission to follow them one after another. To that end it seems one of the steps he took did not please someone from his checkered past and he winds up murdered. Matt is asked to look into this and do the best job he can to find out what was so awful that someone left a message in the way he was killed.

The more Matt delves into his friend's prior life the more doors are slammed in his face than opened. Every person that should have held a grudge has long since gotten over it and the others are still in prison. Yet more people end of dead and possibly murdered and while they appear random Matt is not buying the police line of wrong place, wrong time. Matt keeps looking and getting too close to the right person at the right time that they target him in the one way they can get to him - through the bottle sitting on his table. Will he be strong enough to turn away and say no or has he reached a point of weakness where he will say yes and take that drink?

Lawrence Block is a gifted and beyond talented writer of every genre he touches. I have read them all but this series for some reason is my favorite. Perhaps it was my first Block series but regardless this one I live for and every book out does the last one. While I am all about moving forward in a series taking us back to the lots of quarters for the pay phone days is a place Matthew Scudder still works well in. The story is fresh, plot a mysterious as any other and the characters well written and completely mesmerizing. All readers will love this book and should not pass up the chance to again see the roots of where the Scudder character cut his teeth.
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scudder you stuttered on this one. May 17 2011
By Lisa Baker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wow, it hurts me to say this but this is not the book I was expecting. First, I want to point out that Lawrence Block is one of my top favorite authors. With that said, this one left me feeling sad and a little bored. All the cast of characters are there,but it is so flat and such a slow mover I honestly had a hard time getting through it. There are very few authors that I will pay full price (kindle) for a book when it comes out, however, he is one of them. Good things about this book-I guess everything I have wanted to know about AA is in here, Cons- Same. Page after page of meetings, and more meetings and then even more meetings. I did like that he finally broke up with Jan, but it seemed that the entire plot was over a conversation and not even a good one at that. Sadly, I would not recommend this book to anyone, especially anyone who hasn't read this author before. He is too good to ignore, perhaps he was fighting his own inner demons when he wrote this. I gave it 3 stars because I respect and love his other work. Not much more to say, but I dont understand how others could have given it a better rating.
Final 3 stars and that is pushing it. And, for all of you newbies to Lawrence Block PLEASE read everything he has done, he is a master, just fell down with this one.
Lisa.
Ps I am in the minority on this review, as it seems everyone in the world, including the book reviewers loved it. If you have a Kindle
download the sample it gives you a good idea how the book will flow.
46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Somebody wanted to shut him up." May 4 2011
By E. Bukowsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Lawrence Block's "A Drop of the Hard Stuff" is an understated story that goes down as smoothly as a fine single malt Scotch. Matt Scudder, an alcoholic, member of AA, and former cop, is sitting in a saloon in Hell's Kitchen with his old pal, Mick Ballou. While nursing his club soda, Matt reminisces about events that occurred twenty-five years ago, when he was in his mid-forties--just before his first anniversary as a non-drinker.

Scudder tells Mick a lengthy tale about a boyhood acquaintance from the Bronx, Jack Ellery. While Matt grew up to be a police officer, Jack turned to crime, mostly under the influence of alcohol. One day, the two bump into one another at an AA meeting and chat about the old days. (If we didn't know by now how hard it is for an alcoholic to stay dry, Block sets us straight.) Jack, who has been in prison for armed robbery, is working his way through AA's twelve step program. He is determined to find the people he has wronged and make amends. Not a great idea, as it turns out.

"A Drop of the Hard Stuff" is suspenseful, darkly humorous, philosophical, a tad cynical, and psychologically astute. The author's writing style is relaxed and unpretentious, and the plot is skillfully constructed and absorbing. Since there was no Internet at that time, Scudder gets his information by pounding pavements, consulting snitches, and picking the brains of his contacts at the NYPD. Among the well-drawn characters are: Jan Keane, Matt's steady girlfriend, who is growing dissatisfied with their informal arrangement; Jim Faber, Scudder's wise and supportive AA sponsor; and a list of suspects whom Matt doggedly tracks down. As the weeks pass and dead bodies steadily pile up, the case becomes personal. Scudder has his hands full trying to outsmart a clever and elusive killer. To his credit, Block avoids a tidy resolution. Instead, he embraces life as it is: messy, unpredictable, challenging, and often infuriatingly unfair.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All good things... Sept. 14 2012
By Robert T. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have to preface this review with the statement that I've been a fan of Block's Scudder novels for years. I've read all of them, some many times. The slow and steady decline of quality reaches a new low point in this novel, though. Over the years, the writing has become less inspired and more formulaic, and in this most recent entry the repetition finally leaps over the edge of charmingly familiar right into the abyss of annoyingly trite. Block has dragged his Scudder character on and on, and it almost seems as if he's doing it more out of a sense of obligation than out of necessity. The writing and plot are as uninspired as they are overly simplistic and cliched. I used to love this character, but Block seemingly hasn't felt the same way in a long, long time. This book doesn't do either of them justice. Scudder skips along from meeting to meeting, generally "existing" without really contributing to the story or the lives of those around him. An old acquaintance, rather than friend, turns up after several years and is murdered, and Scudder reluctantly goes around asking some questions. He lights the candles and contributes to the poor box, talks to his regular cast of buddies at the regular locations, and eventually the book ends. This is about as rubber-stamped a novel as one could imagine, which is unfortunate. Even Block acknowledges, by setting this book much earlier in Scudder's career, that these stories have run their course and gotten stale. Sadly, playing with the timeline doesn't go nearly far enough in rescuing this stale chip. A two-star review here is somewhat on the generous side.
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