Matt Scudder used to be a policeman until a tragic accident drove him out of the police force and in the direction of the nearest bottle. Now he survives as an unofficial private eye, doing “favours” for friends.
Wendy Hanniford was murdered by the boy she shared her apartment with. It’s an open and shut case, especially when the boy commits suicide in prison. But Wendy’s estranged father wants to know the truth about her life – how she came to the point of sleeping with men for money and how she came to be murdered. As Scudder looks into the case, it seems the truth could be not as clear cut as it seems.
I’ve reviewed a couple of Block’s Burglar books on the blog a while ago – keep meaning to get round to some more, as they’re fun little reads – and have meant to try his Matt Scudder series for a while. I saw books 1-3 going cheap in Oxfam a while ago and thought I’d give them a try. I read one yonks ago – Even The Wicked, I think – and it was interesting, even if the mystery element was rather obvious. But Block is a talented writer so it was time for another go.
“Among the finest detective books penned this century” – that’s what Jonathan Kellerman has written on the back of this book. Wonder if Block says nice things about him…
Before I dive into this one, I saw an interesting list the other day on the Crime Fiction Lover website concerning the top 20 crime shows of all time – and of these, only two (Morse and Foyle) were real mystery shows, the others being crime dramas. And that’s what I expect when I pick up a private eye novel. Is it noir? That’s what I think of noir as being, so I’ll call it noir. Correct me if I’m wrong.
And that isn’t the case here. There is a major whodunit element involved here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a tale following our hero talking to various people and then revealing what happened, but there is a mystery for the reader to guess at the solution to. And I say guess at, because that’s basically what Scudder does. An intelligent guess, yes, but there’s no bona fide clues to spot.
Oh, I tell a lie, there’s one big honking clue staring you right in the face. But I won’t mention where it is, because then there would be no point reading the book. But it’s hard to miss and anyway, it was pretty inevitable…
But Scudder’s interesting company, and displays a disturbing dark side at the end of the book – possibly a little too dark, given what has gone before – and it’s a quick read.
I think my misgivings come more from a general dislike of the genre then anything that’s here on the page but I’ll give Scudder another try at some point – there’s two more books on the shelf. But I think I’ll be re-visiting our Burglar friend first. Recommended, if you like this sort of thing. But finest detective books of the century? I think that’s overstating things a tad, Jonathan.
Glad you enjoyed it – like Elmore Leonard, Michael Connolly and Walter Mosley, Block is a very good writer who at one point exploded into popular and critical consciousness and got wildly overpraised as a result – but this isn’t their fault, it’s those damn reviewers :). The vast majority of harboiled novels involving private detectives are actually whodunits, whether written by Hammett, Chandler or Macdonald though the noir label fits them too. If you really want some proper bleak Noir, then it’s time for the likes of Jim Thompson and David Goodis!
Hard boiled – that’s the phrase I was thinking of, rather than noir.
At the end of the day, though, I prefer my mysteries more mysterious that this. I doubt I’d have had the patience for anything longer, especially with the inevitability of the whole thing. I’m in no rush to dig much deeper into the genre when I’ve got so much of other stuff to read – more likely to head in the direction of the 87th Precinct, I think, next time…
Oh and never sampled Leonard or Mosley. Connolly, I have enjoyed in the past, but the rather silly epilogue to The Poet – the “he’s alive!” bit – for some reason has soured me on him a bit. Ridiculous and will get back to him when I unpack the books in the garage…
Also a great choice my friend
Steve, your reviews are so important to me. I have a ton of books in my basement to read and not THAT many years reminding to do it, and your tastes totally align with mine. It’s hard to find a blogger who falls between hard-boiled and cozy and loves the traditional puzzle, no matter how old or new. Thank you for your direction and your guidance. I read each review of yours thoroughly unlike other sites that I skim. I have several Rhodenbarrs and will give them preference over the Scudders.
Aw, you’re making me blush! And you’ll almost certainly prefer the Rhodenbarr books to the Scudder ones. I’ll get back to those soon, to see if I can remember which ones are best.
Hope you continue to enjoy the blog!
I didn’t particularly like this book. I found the plot weird and far-fetched.
Though it begins in an intriguing manner, it soon becomes a drag.
Though there is a mystery, the solution has to be guessed because of absence of clues.
The ” big honking clue” is known only to the reader and not to Scudder . So how does he correctly guess the murderer? Not only that, he confronts the murderer and tells the details. Does he possess psychic powers?
I have read another book by Lawrence Block, Some Days You Get The Bear. It is a collection of short stories. I enjoyed it very much. I specially recommend the story Cleveland In My Dreams.
Glad you picked up on the clue – it does make it obvious to the reader. An odd choice by the writer.
Like the Puzzle Doctor, I prefer mysteries, not crime. I remember reading this Scudder novel and found it very depressing – particularly the end. Although I have a lot of respect for Block, and enjoy his Burglar books, and have his non-fiction titles on writing which offers a slew of incredibly helpful information, the Scudder books are too dark for me.
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