I see at least one review here complaining that this book was not the book they expected. I concur with the observation; moreover, I agree. (Sorry, it...moreI see at least one review here complaining that this book was not the book they expected. I concur with the observation; moreover, I agree. (Sorry, it rubs off on you.) What I cannot agree with is forming the observation as a complaint. If books are merely those we expect, well, how tedious for us. But this was not, and I appreciate that. Indeed, it demonstrates that I should like to see more short stories and novelettes in the world of Dragaera, and if I do not, we'll, I assume it will be because now it would be expected.
Let me get my one complaint out of the way up front: I'm quite aggrieved that the book is over. I like experiencing life inside of Matthew Scudder's h...moreLet me get my one complaint out of the way up front: I'm quite aggrieved that the book is over. I like experiencing life inside of Matthew Scudder's head and I'm sad I have to stop again.
So that gives you an idea what this review will be like; that and the five stars, I suppose...
I have been a fan of Lawrence Block's books, and the Scudder books in particular, since a friend recommended them after hearing that I'm a nigh-compulsive collector and reader of Robert Parker's Spenser books. I don't want to turn this review into a general discussion, much less a comparison thereof, but some of the things that make Scudder unusual in my experience are relevant as they are once again in the forefront of this novel.
Let's all agree that we're full of hogwash when we say we want our characters realistic, okay? I'm sure I once heard a quote about how good dialogue is "what we wish we sounded like" or something to that effect and that's kind of a more general underlying concept. We want characters that are not so much realistic as plausible while still being, you know, more interesting, more compelling, just... more. And such is Matthew. He's flawed. He's sometimes inconsistent (the character, but not the author!) He's frustrating to himself, never mind others, and yes, maybe a bit to the reader at times, but never in such a way as to disgust; instead, I think therein lies the true suspense of the Scudder books. Rarely possessed of enough characters to create a "whodunnit", they are more of a "when will Matthew act?" and "How will he act when the time comes?" to my view. And I find that far more compelling than guessing games.
This novel, after an initial framing sequence sure to bring a smile to fans of the books to date, particularly the post-drinking days (it certainly made me smile), is set in Scudder's past, covering (as they often do) weeks if not months of time, but largely towards the end of the first year of Matthew's sobriety. By this and a few other cues, that must place it between Eight Million Ways to Die and Out on the Cutting Edge (the intermediate When the Sacred Ginmill Closes itself being a flashback novel, of course) and it actually fills in some details glossed over by the latter; notably the end of his relationship with Jan Keane. A certain sort of fan will probably be annoyed by this specific example, in fact, as it does not entirely jibe with Scudder's summary in Cutting Edge.
But of course, why would it, really? Does anyone actually tell their histories consistently? Doesn't it depend on the circumstances, the listener? And this is one of the fascinating things about the aforementioned framing sequence -- in a rare moment, we know exactly when Matt is telling this story and to whom. And if he is more expansive and more honest about what happened with Jan, it should come as no surprise given those circumstances (which I don't wish to spoil here, I guess.)
I feel like after all those characters I haven't said much about the actual story. But I'm not sure the plot was the significant part of the novel to me (truthfully, I'm not sure it ever is, so here's some reviewer bias for you, I suppose.) There's nothing wrong with it. Someone is killed, and Matthew is hired (under the table, this being in that era) to investigate, and he bribes Joe Durkin at least once, and... he does the things we expect him to do, including declaring himself done several times and never actually letting go of it, then resolving the entire thing in a somewhat unsatisfying way -- certainly to us Spenser fans who're used to a superheroic combat in which Spenser and Hawk take out the bad guys and fourteen of their friends. (Don't get me wrong. I love Spenser. But I know what I'm reading. I also like superhero comics.) It's... a Scudder novel, in that regard.
But wrapper around that skeleton is an uncertain man living life and taking us through it as it happened. Not once do I want to yell at him "Get on with it!" or "Why are you so stupid?" Instead, I wish he were luckier, I wish he were happier, I wish all the things you'd wish for a friend. Except, of course, I don't really wish any of those things for Scudder, because they wouldn't make for very interesting novels, would they? Even so, he continues to be the easiest detective I've read to relate to, even, or perhaps especially, when he's being kind of rotten to others or, more to the point, to himself. He is, without being too realistic, very real. Now as much as in any of the previous novels, perhaps even my personal favorite, the aforementioned Sacred Ginmill.
What's the takeaway? This is a Matthew Scudder novel. If you like them, you should most certainly read it. If you don't know if you like them... I wouldn't start with this one, not because it is flawed, but because it is more comfortable, I suspect, to the long-time reader. Did you know the entire series is available electronically, mostly for about 5 bucks a novel? Go start with The Sins of the Fathers, or if you're quite keen to get to the recovering alcoholic part, perhaps Eight Million Ways to Die (which many reviewers seem to consider the novel where the series really found its way.) This one will be here for you when you're ready. (less)
Possibly the best of the series up to this point. Hope Sally comes back. I like how Stephanie is frequently at risk at home; often crime novel protago...morePossibly the best of the series up to this point. Hope Sally comes back. I like how Stephanie is frequently at risk at home; often crime novel protagonists seem bizarrely safe at home despite the "bad guys" knowing who they are. (less)