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Even the Wicked Mass Market Paperback – Jul 30 2002
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This is far from the best of Lawrence Block's landmark Scudder series-too little action or suspense, too much domestic bliss--so I'll just use its publication as an excuse to introduce newcomers to some past glories. The best of them all is still When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, definitely on my short list of the 100 Best Mysteries. But close behind are such other Scudder classics as A Long Line of Dead Men, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, The Devil Knows You're Dead, Eight Million Ways to Die, In the Midst of Death, A Ticket to the Boneyard, and A Walk Among the Tombstones. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Marriage to his old flame, Elaine, seems to have mellowed Block's veteran PI, Matt Scudder. He still continues to get his man with a combination of doggedness and occasional flashes of inspiration, but his life has become too cozy to make him the absorbing companion he used to be. Quiet domestic evenings spent talking things over with Elaine in Block's patented delightful dialogue alternate with thoughtful discussions, in this case, with the two perpetrators in the book, who give themselves up without a murmur. Voices are never raised; not even a roscoe barks. It's all too civilized, as if Scudder's formerly gritty world were moving closer to that of Block's much slighter series hero, the daffy burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. There are two plots here, ingeniously intertwined: one involves a serial killer taking out notable bad guys to the delight of the New York press, particularly a pushy columnist who gets to publish the man's gloating notes; the other concerns the mysterious killing, in broad daylight on a park bench, of a friend of a friend of Scudder's who's in the last stages of AIDS and has a complicated insurance arrangement. As usual, Block's ingenuity in finding new motives for crime is endless, his narration polished, his entertainment value high. What is missing here is the violence, or the constant threat of it, that made Scudder's earlier appearances memorable. The ending, involving Scudder's streetwise sidekick TJ, is downright sentimental. Brace up, Block!
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In Even the Wicked, Matt has transitioned into a new phase of life. We could see this coming. He is happily (and faithfully!) married, properly licensed, lives in a nice building, eats well, and is still in solid recovery. Of course, he is still an alcoholic. What may disappoint some is that this story is less grisly, much less violent, and less sordid than previous adventures. If memory serves, Matt doesn't even break any major laws in his typical pursuit of the greater good. (Actually, a couple of minor transgressions do occur, but nothing like the shocking vigilantism of previous stories).
Is this a bland shadow of the original Matt Scudder, whom I regard as one of the most fascinating characters in literature? No, it is still Matt, just further down the path. We can see that his addiction produced a 25 or 30-year delay in normal adult development. In his 50s, Matt is only now able to sustain a mature, reciprocal, intimate relationship, a challenge normally faced in one's early to mid 20s. After years, really decades, of extraordinary self-absorption, Matt is finally beginning to be comfortable with the idea of making a broader contribution to society. (Historically, Matt's committment to society has been narrow and simple -- the world becomes an even worse place when a murderer goes unpunished.)
While Even the Wicked lacks some of the sex and violence of earlier books, and I, for one, really enjoy sex and violence, on a deeper level it is a great book. It is a psychologically honest portrayal of adult growth and development in the context of long-term successful recovery. Like its predecessors, the book provides a steady stream of insights into addiction. I particularly enjoy the AA humor, entertaining as ever. And, it is a very good story, with numerous twists and turns, some recurring characters without over-doing it, and a particularly satisfying (heart-warming?) conclusion.
If this is your first Matthew Scudder novel, you will not feel you know the man at the end of the book; he is a man of few words and you don't get a lot of insight into what he is thinking either. But that doesn't matter; there is, after all, a whole series on him if you want to learn more. For the purposes of this book, such reticence from the author makes for an understated but elegant read, especially if you also like your thrillers without much violence and sex. In fact, much of the story line is related through the dialogue between the characters, and that dialogue is fantastic - witty, sassy, and streetwise. The story itself consists of two lines of investigation in New York. One concerns a vigilante killer who selects for his victims those who he believes have escaped the punitive side of the justice system. He announces his intended victims to the city through a newspaper columnist who, incidentally, is such a nasty drunk that you find yourself wishing that he would end up on the hit list himself. The other is a man dying of AIDs who is shot while sitting on a park bench enjoying the sunshine.
The reader is told fairly early on who the killer is in the first investigation, but you are kept in suspense by wondering whether the second line of investigation has anything to do with him. And then a copycat writer starts communicating with the city.
One disappointment, in my view, is how quickly a couple of the murder suspects give it up - just a bit of prompting by Matt and they're spilling their guts like they're on their therapist's couch. I would have thought that if you were facing twenty-five years to life in the slammer, you'd be a bit more reticent. Mind you, Matt is very good at what he does - three mysteries to solve and he cracks them all, for virtually no fees either. One wonders what New York's finest were doing.
If you like a lot of fast and furious action, get an earlier Scudder book. For anyone else, this is a good read.
But Matt ain't real. I have to wonder if, in the course of pulling himself up by his bootstraps, he hasn't lost some of his snap. The plots are still there, but the tense backdrop of Scudder's own life is gone. Do I think he should go back to being an alcholic? Hardly. Block managed his climb out of the bottle masterfully, and I think it would demonstrate a failure of imagination to return. But Scudder still needs something. He's turned into a standard PI, a little crusty, with weird friends, but he hardly stands out against the field of PI characters anymore. The stunning balance Block achieved in Eight Million Ways to Die and When the Sacred Ginmill Closes just isn't there.