Kemper's Reviews > A Stab in the Dark

A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block
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Feb 04, 14

bookshelves: 2011-r, crime-mystery, detectives, scudder

When you’ve hit a point where you’ve read hundreds of books and age starts to degrade your memory, you sometimes doubt your previous assessments. I’d read most of the Scudder novels anywhere from 10 to 15 years ago, and while I thought they were very good, I’d started to wonder if they were actually as good as I remembered. Having reread the first four, I’m very happy to find that these are actually even better than I originally thought.

Matt gets hired by a man whose daughter, Barbara, was supposedly killed by a serial killer with an icepick nine years earlier. The killer was recently caught but while he’s confessing to the other murders, he denies killing Barbara. The cops aren’t interested in screwing up the gift of getting multiple homicides cleared off the books so they won’t bother looking into it, but one of the detectives has steered the father to Matt, who briefly worked the murder when he was still a cop. Matt doubts he can turn anything up, but agrees to look into it.

As with the other Matt Scudder books, the mystery and resolution are intriguing enough, but what really sets these books apart is the character arc of Scudder himself. Block cleverly never gave us much direct introspection from Matt despite being written in the first person. At first glance, it seems like many things don’t seem to effect him at all, but over the course of the series, particularly these early books, you realize that Matt is a guy consumed with guilt and self hatred.

Matt's a very decent guy, but he freely admits to taking money as a cop and a large part of his unlicensed PI business comes from paying kickbacks to the police. He left the cops after accidentally shooting and killing a young girl while breaking up a robbery and subsequently walked out on his wife and kids to start living in a cheap hotel room. This book is yet another stage in Matt’s relationship to the booze where he gets dangerously drunk without realizing it, and it’s the first time that he even starts to consider the idea that he may be an alcoholic, even if he quickly denies it.

This is another short but powerful book that again shows that Block can deliver more story and create more heartbreaking characters in 180 pages than most writers can in a lifetime.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan 1.0 I think this was the Scudder book that made me commit to reading the rest of them.


Kemper Dan wrote: "I think this was the Scudder book that made me commit to reading the rest of them."

Yeah, this is definately where he shifted up a gear.


message 3: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan 1.0 Kemper wrote: "Dan wrote: "I think this was the Scudder book that made me commit to reading the rest of them."

Yeah, this is definately where he shifted up a gear."


Agreed. I think Block might have been playing it safe a little before this one. After this, Matt and the supporting cast really start seeming real.


Kemper Dan wrote: "Kemper wrote: Agreed. I think Block might have been playing it safe a little before this one. After this, Matt and the supporting cast really start seeming real.

I read somewhere once that originally, Block was going to end the series at 8 Million Ways to Die, and if you think about that ending and the four books before it, you could almost see that he had it written as Matt being on a defined path for a while.


message 5: by Dan (last edited Feb 22, 2011 07:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan 1.0 Kemper wrote: "Dan wrote: "Kemper wrote: Agreed. I think Block might have been playing it safe a little before this one. After this, Matt and the supporting cast really start seeming real.

I read somewhere on..."


I think I read the same thing on Wikipedia. Man, I can't wait until the next book comes out!


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