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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome back, Matthew Scudder!,
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. The main part of the story is set in a time before cell phone and technology, when investigation was still done with quarter phone calls, the public library, taking the subway and shoe leather to ask questions. It was a time with HIV/AIDS was just taking hold, but there was not a name for it yet, other than Kaposi's sarcoma. Yet there is a nod to today in the transition back to present time.
Even if one has not read previous Scudder books, the backstory is included in a way to prevent new readers from feeling lost, but doesn't slow down the story at all. Also, one could be concerned that the information on AA could be preachy or depressing, but it's not. Instead, it is a facet of understanding the characters.
This is vintage Larry Block and it's great. All the elements I particularly love about his writing, and particularly the character of Matt Scudder, are all here. If one hasn't read the series before, I always recommend starting at the beginning, but it's also nice that this book stands very well on its own.
A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF (PI-Matthew Scudder-NYC-Cont) ' Ex
Block, Lawrence ' 17th in series
Mulholland Books, ©2011, US Hardcover ' ISBN: 9780316127332
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Matthew Scudder returns,
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).
Ellery has been sober for about three years - Scudder at that point was reaching his one year's sober point - and he's fulfilling the Step program of seeking out people they have hurt in their alcoholic past and to make amends for the pain they've caused. After making a list and giving it to his sponsor, Ellery is found dead, shot twice in the head. His sponsor, Greg Stillman, hires Scudder to try to determine if any of the people on Ellery's list could have murdered him, after realising that the police are making Ellery's murder a low priority.
Scudder investigates, reaching out to old friends and contacts still on the NYPD, all the while approaching his year mark of sobriety with some troubling personal issues.
Block writes the Scudder books in the first person. His use of dialog - and the kind of dialog that REAL people use - make his books both mundane and interesting. There's not a whole lot of "action" in Block's books. Not many guns, not too many murders, just people who make decisions that affect the lives of others, some in a good way, some in a bad way. Lawrence Block is a masterful writer but his work does not appeal to all readers. However, if you've enjoyed Block's books in the past, you'll welcome his return to print with "A Drop of the Hard Stuff".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine series ripening,
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This review is from: A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Paperback)
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Amends,
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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A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block (Paperback - Feb. 1 2012)
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