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Matthew Scudder #5

Eight Million Ways to Die: A Matthew Scudder Novel

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Battling the bottle one day at a time, ex–cop, sometime PI Matthew Scudder finds that next to staying sober, staying alive seems easy. But in the mean streets of New York City it never is. Not for the prostitute who wanted out and got her beautiful self slashed to ribbons. Not for a pimp named Chance who is betting his life that the broken-down detective can find her murderer. And not for Matthew Scudder—just trying to stay alive in a city that knows nothing better than how to die.

1 pages, Audio CD

First published January 1, 1982

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About the author

Lawrence Block

680 books2,718 followers
Lawrence Block has been writing crime, mystery, and suspense fiction for more than half a century. He has published in excess (oh, wretched excess!) of 100 books, and no end of short stories.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., LB attended Antioch College, but left before completing his studies; school authorities advised him that they felt he’d be happier elsewhere, and he thought this was remarkably perceptive of them.

His earliest work, published pseudonymously in the late 1950s, was mostly in the field of midcentury erotica, an apprenticeship he shared with Donald E. Westlake and Robert Silverberg. The first time Lawrence Block’s name appeared in print was when his short story “You Can’t Lose” was published in the February 1958 issue of Manhunt. The first book published under his own name was Mona (1961); it was reissued several times over the years, once as Sweet Slow Death. In 2005 it became the first offering from Hard Case Crime, and bore for the first time LB’s original title, Grifter’s Game.

LB is best known for his series characters, including cop-turned-private investigator Matthew Scudder, gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner, and introspective assassin Keller.

Because one name is never enough, LB has also published under pseudonyms including Jill Emerson, John Warren Wells, Lesley Evans, and Anne Campbell Clarke.

LB’s magazine appearances include American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, Linn’s Stamp News, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and The New York Times. His monthly instructional column ran in Writer’s Digest for 14 years, and led to a string of books for writers, including the classics Telling Lies for Fun & Profit and The Liar’s Bible. He has also written episodic television (Tilt!) and the Wong Kar-wai film, My Blueberry Nights.

Several of LB’s books have been filmed. The latest, A Walk Among the Tombstones, stars Liam Neeson as Matthew Scudder and is scheduled for release in September, 2014.

LB is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and a past president of MWA and the Private Eye Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times each, and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Diamond Dagger for Life Achievement from the Crime Writers Association (UK). He’s also been honored with the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award from Mystery Ink magazine and the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement in the short story. In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Germany, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Taiwan. As if that were not enough, he was also presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. (But as soon as he left, they changed the locks.)

LB and his wife Lynne are enthusiastic New Yorkers and relentless world travelers; the two are members of the Travelers Century Club, and have visited around 160 countries.

He is a modest and humble fellow, although you would never guess as much from this biographical note.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 461 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
April 13, 2020

In this fifth entry in the Scudder series, Matt is hired by high-class hooker Kim Danniken. She is determined to leave the life, and, fearing her pimp Chance may try to stop her, she figures she may need Scudder's help. Things seem to be going well at first, but then somebody ends up dead, and Scudder realizes he has a much more complicated job on his hands.

The plot is interesting, with a few twists and turns, some memorable characters (“Danny Boy” Bell, the black albino dwarf tipster; Chance the elegantly dressed pimp, connoisseur of African masks; Donna Campion, half-hearted hooker and accomplished poet), and more than a few exciting and atmospheric scenes.

But the heart of the book—and the reason why I love it—lies elsewhere. It is filled with countless examples of two different kinds of small stories: the ones the newspapers tell its readers about sudden death in the city and the ones AA members tell each other about the ways alcohol has damaged their lives. You see, alcohol is trying to kill Matt Scudder, and maybe New York City is trying to kill him too, and it is through the contemplation of both kinds of stories that Matt comes closer to confronting his demons and getting on with what is left of his life.

This is not only the finest Scudder so far, but a landmark and milestone of the hard-boiled genre. It is of course a genre forever tied to the magic of particular cities, but this book is the only one I know that consciously uses the city's stories, the tales of the dead and the dying, as a sort of urban necromancy, a way of calling the hero forward, out of the depths of his city, squinting in pain toward the New York light.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,964 followers
March 11, 2016
Someday I’m going to get around to putting together my list of the greatest mystery/crime novels I’ve read. When I do, this one is going to be very near the top.

Matt Scudder is still working as an unlicensed private detective, and he is approached by an upscale prostitute named Kim. She wants to quit the business but is nervous about telling her pimp, Chance. Kim hires Matt to break the news to Chance and gauge his reaction to see if he’ll try to keep her working.

After Matt tracks Chance down, he’s surprised to find that the pimp seems reasonable and doesn’t object to Kim leaving. Matt passes the word along to Kim and thinks his work is done. Days later, he’s shocked to learn that Kim has been brutally murdered.

Matt’s also got a personal crisis going on. His drinking has started taking a big toll on his health, and he’s had enough blackouts to finally admit that he’s got a problem. So he is attending AA meetings and trying to stay sober as he tracks Kim’s killer.

From what I’ve read, Lawrence Block was originally going to end the Scudder series here, and it would have been a natural stopping place by the end of the book. Instead, this became the end of the first phase of Matt’s story. The mystery in this one is good as usual, but what makes this one special is Matt’s battle with the bottle.

The usually steady Matt is jittery and on edge. He attends AA meetings and is often fascinated by the stories of others, but won’t talk himself. He’s constantly aware of his craving for booze, but is also always trying to rationalize that it’s not that big of a deal.

It’s not helping that this was written during the early ‘80s when random murders in New York were reaching record levels. Matt compulsively reads the newspapers and is horrified by the prospect of violent death that seems to lurk around every corner, and his interactions with a cynical cop aren’t doing much for his state of mind.

Block’s depiction of a Matt struggling to come to terms with his alcoholism is one of the best stories about addiction I’ve read, and the backdrop of a decaying New York overrun by crime makes you feel Matt’s desperation. It seems like drinking is the only sane response to the madness he sees all around him, but he’s honest enough to admit that he’s really just trying to find a reason to get drunk. The real mystery in the book isn’t about who killed Kim, it’s whether Matt will ever be able to get sober.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
September 10, 2023
“There are eight million stories in the naked city," he intoned. "You remember that program? Used to be on television some years back."
"I remember."
"They had that line at the end of every show. ‘There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.’ "
"I remember it."
"Eight million stories," he said. "You know what you got in this city, this fucked-up toilet of a naked fucking city? You know what you got? You got eight million ways to die”--Durkin

I just read John Snyder’s graphic novel adaptation of Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die and liked it, and even the author—with a lot of well-informed Goodreads reviewers—felt it was a faithful version of his story, gritty and moving. So now I can also say I think Snyder’s adaptation of Block’s book was great, though the original—you won’t be surprised to hear, dear readers all—is even better. I listened to it while driving around the last couple days.

Ostensibly this is a hard-boiled story about a murdered prostitute, but at its foundation is really a story about an alcoholic, former police detective Matt Scudder, seeking expiation for a "sin" though he doesn't even know if he believes in any God. He's not religious. Scudder had been married, has two children, but when he accidentally kills a seven year-old girl with a stray bullet, he quits his job on the police force, quits his marriage and begins to kill himself through drinking. He has to make rent, so he does the one thing he knows how to do, (unlicensed) detective work. At an AA meeting he meets Kim Dakkinen, a prostitute who wants out of “the life” and he agrees to talk to her pimp. Everything goes smoothly, until she is killed. This is a moment that follows:

“I thought, My name is Matt and I'm an alcoholic. A woman I know got killed last night. She hired me to keep her from getting killed and I wound up assuring her that she was safe and she believed me. . . she's dead now, and there's nothing I can do about it. And it eats at me and I don't know what to do about that, and there's a bar on every corner and a liquor store on every block, and drinking won't bring her back to life but neither will staying sober.”

The story expands on his relationship with the pimp, Chance, who we all think initially has killed Kim, until he hires Scudder to find who did it. In the story we also get to know some of Kim's fellow prostitutes in the process of his investigation. We also get to better know his informant, Danny, and his cynical detective buddy Durkin. The dialogue is great, the characters are real and the realest and most affecting is Scudder, who alternates his work with daily AA meetings where he never speaks. He nearly does kill himself drinking. Not a believer, he tithes, and is in a sense doing penance for the death no one will blame him for except himself. When another hooker dies, we see that these women matter to him.

Mysteries are often largely little escapist puzzles, exercises in style, but in the hands of a master like Block, wow. You wouldn’t think a title like this would yield so much feeling, but I’ll admit it, at the end I had to brush away a tear. I'd read this series in order, but this is one of the best in this genre I have ever read.

Almost always, a series should be read in order, as it features the development of the world over time. And this is true for this series. But I did read this book forst and still loved it, if you only have time to read one Scudder book. But there are many great ones in this series, And in his mid-eighties, author Block is still very productive, having released multiple books in the past year.
Profile Image for carol..
1,566 reviews8,210 followers
August 15, 2012
A book about the mystery of a dead hooker becomes a book about Matt Scudder taking one day at a time, trying to save himself from alcohol. The prose was dry and matter-of-fact; the words of a police report detailing his movements and contacts. And yet the way they were arranged, their anti-drama sensibility, packed an emotional punch. Definitely my favorite Scudder so far.

The synopsis: Scudder gets a visit from a beautiful dairy-maid hooker who wants his help leaving her john. A little unusual to modern sensibilities perhaps, but Scudder explains that police and prostitutes frequently have 'special' relationships, the police acting a little like lobbyists working on behalf of their clients at the big house. He agrees, mostly because he's in need of money. After searching a number of likely pimp-hangouts, a contact arranges meeting with Chance, her pimp, at a boxing match. It gives Scudder a chance to impress Chance with his eye and ability to spot a deal. Meeting over, he returns to the girl and tells her she's free (these are usually 'girls' in Scudder's world). To no one's surprise, she turns up dead shortly after their last meeting. Chance tracks Scudder down and convinces him to take the case, for reasons that are partially unclear to both of them, but have a lot to do with staying dry for Scudder. Back from a short bender and even shorter hospital stay, he's trying hard to stay busy and AA doesn't seem to be enough.

Character development shines in this book, and even the stereotypical hookers in Chance's stable have their own unique spin on their activities. The poet was a standout, but what really impressed me was how Block was able to make Scudder's struggle with alcohol consistently moving. I don't think I ever felt pity or impatience with his struggle; rather it was compassion for his courage, even when he wasn't able to quite articulate what and why he was doing. A scene in Harlem with a hopped-up mugger packs a wallop. In a book with an alcoholic main character, it's a writing cinch to go for the emotional crisis around a bottle, but instead Block springs it when Scudder is dry, cornered in an alley.

Small touches of humor mitigate the bleak, and the potential depressingness of the struggle with alcohol. For instance, Scudder pays his source Danny Boy to point out Chance at the boxing ring: "If it's any consolation, I'd want at least a hundred dollars to attend a hockey game." Ah, Danny Boy.

I enjoyed the writing even more this book. There's the occasional sentence or three when Block is able to so perfectly capture an image, I feel like I'm in the scene: "When I woke up the sun was shining. By the time I showered and shaved and hit the street it was gone, tucked away behind a bank of clouds. It came and went all day, as if whoever was in charge didn't want to commit himself."

The depth of humanity shown in the dry description of Scudder's meetings is consistently moving, whether it is the inanities relayed and Scudder's internal commentary, or the larger issues people are able to touch on. The way he conveys struggle in these tiny testaments without becoming maudlin or self-pitying is impressive.

Words of wisdom from Mary's qualifying: "You know, it was a revelation to me to learn that I don't have to be comfortable. Nowhere is it written that I must be comfortable. I always thought if I felt nervous or anxious or unhappy I had to do something about it. But I learned that's not true. Bad feelings won't kill me. Alcohol will kill me, but my feelings won't."

Interspersed though the book is the larger theme of the brutality and callusness of the big city. Somewhat unfortunately, he finds a kindred spirit in the cop Durkin, and their trading tales was just about enough to drive me to drink as well. Eight million stories in the big city, all right--and eight million ways to die. It says something for the quality of the writing that despite these weighty issues that the books itself is not depressing to read. Had you told me I'd me moved and impressed about a ex-drunk investigating some dead hookers, I would have raised a skeptical eyebrow. Glad I was wrong.

The weak spot was perhaps the ending. I didn't feel like Scudder had enough steps to make the final intuitive conclusion, and victim's actions become even more unclear. Nonetheless, a great journey getting there.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for James Thane.
Author 9 books6,934 followers
August 14, 2014
Every time I post a review of one of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder novels, my strong temptation is always to begin by saying that this is one of my favorite books in the series. The problem is that I love every last one of them and so they're all my favorites, which I guess makes Eight Million Ways to Die one of my Most Favorites.

The story at the heart of the novel is fairly simple and straightforward. A beautiful young call girl named Kim Dakkinen wants to leave the business, but she's worried that her pimp might object and perhaps harm her if she tells him that she's abandoning ship. So, on the recommendation of Elaine Mardell, a call girl with whom Scudder has been intimate, Kim asks Scudder to intercede and speak to the pimp on her behalf.

As most crime fiction fans know, Scudder is an ex-cop who now works as an unlicensed P.I. He also has a problem with alcohol that is getting progressively more serious, which is why, when the young woman first consults him, she finds Scudder in his "office" at Armstrong's saloon.

Scudder agrees to take the case and tracks down the pimp, whose name is Chance and who seems to be unusually wise and sophisticated for someone in his profession. Chance assures Matt that Kim is perfectly free to leave if she so pleases. Chance insists that hookers are a dime a dozen, and that he'll have no problem at all replacing her in his string.

Everything seems copacetic, but then, a couple of nights later, poor Kim turns up savagely hacked to death in a hotel bedroom. Scudder assumes that he's been betrayed by the pimp and feels a moral obligation to bring the killer to justice. From there the story takes more than a few interesting turns before ending in one of the best conclusions of any book in the series.

It's always fun to watch Scudder investigate a crime. This story is set in the early 1980s, before the invention of all the technological innovations that are now available to a P.I., and so Matt will spend a lot of time walking around town, talking to people and attempting to sort things out. He also spends a lot of time looking for working pay phones. But what sets this series apart from virtually any other is the fantastic job that Lawrence Block does in developing the character of Matthew Scudder.

Scudder's descent into alcoholism began with the very first book in the series, The Sins of the Fathers, and as I suggested above, it has grown progressively worse until by this point Scudder's health and, indeed, his very life are seriously at risk. Scudder wrestles with the problem as he struggles to solve the murder and watching him do so is as gripping as the plot of any crime novel. Block handles it brilliantly, and the way he does so, for me at least, makes this book one of the true standouts in what remains my favorite series of crime novels.
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews336 followers
March 28, 2019
Fabulous. A Masterpiece of crime-noir.
5+ Stars

Block's dialogue in previous books has been good, but here he's gone nova. Wow. There are many characters with extended dialogue sequences in this book, and all of them are terrific.

The plotting is deliciously complex, and the pacing is fantastic. Wonderful prose with great rhythm. Everything about this Scudder story is superb.

As usual with my reviews, please first read the publisher’s blurb/summary of the book. Thank you.

Matt's giant leap to the solution takes some re-reading, and some faith, and there's a bit of an info-dump in his explanation to Danny Boy near the end. So call it 6 stars for the dialogue and plot, and -0.5 stars for the info-dump... Overall then, 5.5 Stars. Well done!

Note: I have 17 years of terrible familiarity with alcoholism. When a member of a family is an alcoholic, then all members are. Just like the alcoholic, we can't stop either. It's so destructive, and such a waste of life and love. I'm not sure how I'll be able to deal with this aspect of the book. 😥

Update: I was impressed with the veracity of the struggle, and the compassion with which Block portrays the rollercoaster, and especially for the ending of the book.

Some wonderfully-drawn characters here... a sample:

Danny Boy
"Thirty dollars for tickets and fifty for my time... I’m sorry I have to ask you for money. If it were a track meet I wouldn’t charge you a cent. But I’ve never cared for boxing. If it’s any consolation, I’d want at least a hundred dollars to attend a hockey game.”

“They think they’re irreplaceable. If she had any notion how easily she can be replaced she’d most likely hang herself. The buses bring them, Scudder. Every hour of every day they stream into Port Authority ready to sell themselves. And every day a whole slew of others decide there must be a better way than waiting tables or punching a cash register. I could open an office, Scudder, and take applications, and there’d be a line halfway around the block.”

The resolution provided relief and release and precious little pleasure. I drew away from her and felt as though I was in the midst of an infinite wasteland of sand and dry brush. There was a moment of astonishing sadness. Pain throbbed at the back of my throat and I felt myself close to tears. Then the feeling passed. I don’t know what brought it on or what took it away.

Lovely. I know this feeling. When you reach a certain age, you cry for the pain that will come for the young.

Reminds me of a quote -
“Youth endures all things, kings and poetry and love. Everything but time.”
― James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

But I had another motive, and perhaps it was a deeper one. Searching for Kim’s killer was something I could do instead of drinking. For awhile, anyway. 😥

Halfway down the stairs I started laughing. How automatically she’d slipped into her whore’s manner, warm and earnest at parting, and how good she was at it. No wonder those stockbrokers didn’t mind climbing all those stairs. No wonder they turned out to watch her try to be an actress. The hell, she was an actress, and not a bad one, either. Two blocks away I could still feel the imprint of her kiss on my cheek.

Lovely... One of the girls quotes Kipling, and Scudder completes the verse with: Are sisters under their skins.
The Ladies - Rudyard Kipling

She didn’t know if Kim had had a boyfriend. Why, she wondered, would a woman want two men in her life? Then she would have to give money to both of them. I suggested that Kim might have had a different sort of relationship with her boyfriend, that he might have given her gifts. She seemed to find the idea baffling. Did I mean a customer? I said that was possible. But a customer was not a boyfriend, she said. A customer was just another man in a long line of men. How could one feel anything for a customer?

Mary Lou
For the first few months she still thought she was doing research for a book. She took notes every time a john left, writing down her impressions. She kept a diary. She detached herself from what she was doing and from who she was, using her journalistic objectivity as Donna used poetry and as Fran used marijuana. When it dawned on her that whoring was an end in itself she went through an emotional crisis. She had never considered suicide before, but for a week she hovered on its brink.
“I think Chance is the elephant and his girls are the blind men. We each see a different person.”

And there are also other fine characters, especially Durkin and the lovely Jan, and with a nice minor role for Alice (with the cat, Panther).

Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
February 28, 2011
A hooker hires Matthew Scudder to tell her pimp she's leaving. Scudder delivers the message and everything is cool. Only the hooker ends up dead and the pimp hires Scudder to find out who killed her. Can Scudder find the killer before he ends up dead himself?

Sometimes, I really struggle with rating a book. This was not one of those times. Eight Million Ways To Die is easily the best Lawrence Block book I've read yet, head and shoulders about the others. The characters are more alive than in the other Scudder books and Matt's struggle with his alcoholism gives this book something extra, making it more than just another detective story.

The story is great, although I had a good idea who was involved with the murders about halfway though, although it wasn't as simple as I'd thought. As I said earlier, the characters grabbed me in this one. I kept thinking things like "I hope Chance didn't do it. He's a nice guy for a pimp." Even minor characters like Danny Boy and Durkin were well drawn. Matt dealing with his alcohol problem was center stage and it made me feel like I was dealing with it right alongside him.

To sum it up, Eight Million Ways to Die = Fantastic.
Profile Image for Brandon.
914 reviews235 followers
September 10, 2011
Wow. Just wow. I can easily say this is the first "great" Scudder book. I knew I made a mistake rating the first 4 novels at 5 stars each. It's not that they're bad books, they're just not in the same league as Eight Million Ways to Die.

In the 5th installment of the series, Block takes Scudder and the City of New York all the way down to rock bottom. Whether he's exposing the reader to gang violence and random murders or he's having Scudder drink himself half to death; not a lot of hope escapes these pages.

It's been suggested in the past that Block has had his fair share of problems with alcohol. While he refuses to admit it or even talk about it, you have to think at the very least, he had some personal exposure to the addiction. The subject matter is written with a sense of intensity that is often hard to ignore.

Scudder advances so much as a character in this outing that he's quickly solidifying himself as one of my favorite detectives. His violent outburst against a common street thug is just so bad-ass that I actually found myself yelling "OH!" at the encounter's conclusion. The man can be rather ruthless when threatened but carries a sense of calm when surrounded by others. However, under all that, he comes across as terribly vulnerable this time around. He's just an all around great read and I can't wait to get deeper into the series.

Profile Image for Richard.
998 reviews382 followers
May 5, 2015
That's it. If I never read another Lawrence Block novel (I shudder at the thought), this book on it's own solidifies in my mind that Block is one of the best crime novelists out there. But this is so much more than just a "detective novel." It's a vividly written character study of the struggle to overcome alcoholism.

In this, the fifth book in the famed Matthew Scudder series, Matt gets hired by a beautiful hooker to convince her pimp to let her get out of the life. It eventually turns into a murder investigation. But the mystery is almost completely secondary. Since the start of the series, Matt has had a steady downward arc in regards to his drinking. In the beginning he was comfortably in denial, confident in his control. But it's gotten worse with each book. And now, even though he tries to attend AA meetings, he has hit bottom. Terrified at what he's failed to see in himself and determined to stay sober, he ends up throwing his all into searching for a killer, dedicating himself to the case more than ever before. Not necessarily to do the right thing, but because it gives him something to take his mind off of his liquor jones. You get the sense that the case is the only thing that saving him from falling off the wagon again.

The personal struggle is what puts this high above the previous Scudder books (which were all good). There's just more at stake for Matthew. Block's great writing really shines when describing Matt's struggle: detailing the denial of his lack of control, the bargaining that he goes through with himself about why he should take a sip, his feelings about the AA meetings, and his realization of how serious the problem has actually become. Matt sees liquor everywhere; temptation follows him around every corner of the investigation.

And Matt isn't the only well-drawn character. I really enjoyed reading about Jan, Matt's love interest and the person who (in the previous novel) opened his eyes to his alcoholism and the solutions, as well as Chance, the level-headed pimp that totally bucks the stereotype. I enjoyed so much of this book and it's the best installment so far in a series that will hopefully only get better.

Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,454 followers
September 22, 2012
"You know what you got in this city, this fucked-up toilet of a naked fucking city? You know what you got? You got eight million ways to die." ~Eight Million Ways to Die
Matt Scudder, how much do I love thee? Let me count the eight million ways.

This is definitely my favorite of the Scudder books so far, for all the reasons captured in this review here. Eight Million Ways to Die is New York in all of its grimy splendor: murderous, amoral, seething and unsympathetic. Block creates an authentic portrait using his signature slicing prose to recall an early 80's Big Apple plagued by poverty, racial tensions, police corruption and crime. Scudder describes the degeneration of the subway system and if you think Block is exaggerating for dramatic effect, take a look at this slideshow of photos captured during this period.

When I think of Scudder's New York, this is what comes to mind for me:

It's enough to drive a good man to drink. And drink some more. Drink yourself into oblivion. Matt has a choice to make -- stay sober and live, or drink and die. It's not as easy a choice to make as it should be. Matt continues his struggle in a battle of will versus weakness, guilt versus loathing, that's as enthralling as anything on the subject I've read. There are demons to be wrestled and subdued. The road from self-hatred to self-acceptance can be a long and lonely one.

This time around Matt becomes tangled up in the gruesome murder of a young and beautiful prostitute. Her pimp Chance is a sure bet for the dirty deed, but he's the one who approaches Scudder and pays him to find the killer. The mystery is nicely layered and evenly plotted. Chance is an interesting dude and the chemistry he shares with Scudder is memorable. I really like their scenes and the dialogue exchanged between the two.

Actually, most of the dialogue in this book resonates with a clear-cut precision that carries within it a hint of the philosophical. Whether Scudder is interviewing a hooker with the heart of a poet or trying to outdo an embittered cop in a game of "the worst murder you ever heard", the dialogue snaps with an emotional fervency and stark honesty that's as addictive as anything poured from a bottle (and I'm already jonesing for my next fix).

What more can I say? I love this series and I thank the reading gods that there's much more to come yet.

Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,255 followers
December 8, 2017
Matt Scudder, the ex-cop turned PI with a drinking problem, puts himself through the wringer in this one!

Eight Million Ways to Die pairs Scudder up with an unlikely client. The very person who he suspects murdered someone hires him to find the murderer. Go figure!

Scudder gets too attached to a young woman. Then he falls back on his crutch. In and out of bars. In and out of AA meetings. One life-threatening bender later and we're left wondering if and/or when the next dive down the devil's gullet Scudder will attempt. It's not a pretty journey and it's amazing the man survives. Not only survives, but gets it together enough to doggedly solve a very perplexing crime.

Very solid plot here backed by wonderful early '80s New York City details, which pave the street-level setting of this book in shit.

I don't know if this would be a 5-star book for everyone, even Block fans, but it hit me just right. Right in the gut and I loved it.
Profile Image for Dave.
3,101 reviews353 followers
December 11, 2020
“Eight Million Ways To Die” is the fifth out of seventeen novels in Block’s Matthew Scudder series, which features one of the most unusual private eyes in detective fiction. Forget the porkpie hat, the tiny office, the breathless blonde secretary, and the guns blazing, action featured on every page kind of detective. That’s not Scudder’s world. Scudder was a former NYPD Officer, who after a shooting went bad, real bad, reconsidered what he was doing in this world, gave up his career, his family, his life and discovered the bottle. He now lives in a hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, treks from AA meeting to AA meeting, although passing whenever its his turn to share, and frequently stops in churches to light a candle and tithe. Sometimes he’s lucky to count eight days in a row sober. Sometimes he’s not. He still frequents the bars, but tries to get by on pieces of pie and coffee. He earns a living by doing favors since he is not a licensed private op. It is a dark, gloomy world Scudder lives in and he is climbing the walls of his tiny hotel room, trying not to focus on that next drink.

A friend of a friend needs a favor. Kim, a call girl, wants out of the life, where a man known only as “Chance” has set her up in an apartment and she gives him most of her earnings. There are five other girls he has on his leash, all similarly set up. Kim doesn’t quite explain why she wants out, but she is nervous about confronting Chance and wants Scudder to intercede. The only thing is Chance has no known address, no phone that he can be reached at, only an answering service and, if he doesn’t return your call, that’s your problem. Scudder intercedes and spends an evening at the fights and getting to know Chance, who represents that its not a problem. Kim can walk. She is easily replaceable. Plenty of other farm girls from Wisconsin. Not much work for a thousand dollar fee plus the bonus Kim confers upon Scudder, but the job is done or so he thinks until Kim ends up hacked to pieces in a hotel room the next night. Scudder gives Chance’s information to the police detective and tries to absolve his guilt for trusting this pimp, for allowing Kim to come to harm. It then gets really interesting when Chance offers to hire Scudder to find the real killer.

Scudder piece by piece works to put together little clues like a relentless bulldog that just won’t let go. On the way, he has moral quandaries about who to trust and what his real motives are. Is he being used by Chance to set up some kind of third-party culpability to mask what really happened or is there some psycho out there? It is not all black and white in Scudder’s world. There’s a lot of angst, a lot of grey areas, a lot of guilt.

Reading this after reading Block’s early works, it is easy to see how he has matured as a writer. It is dark, foreboding tale, but it is not a classic hardboiled detective story. It is some different kind of animal. But, even without gobs of action, the book is terrific, the pacing perfectly cadenced, and the conversations and actions feel authentic.
Profile Image for Toby.
836 reviews330 followers
February 7, 2013
There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of the best of them.

The fifth Matt Scudder takes a further dark turn in to a city plagued by demons and lawlessness, taking a pessimistic cue from the classic movie/TV show The Naked City this is the story of a dead call girl, of 2000 murders per year, of a private investigator, of an alcoholic on a path of self-destruction. During his investigation Scudder comes in to contact with all kinds of filth and degenerates, he makes acquaintances with a good cop, a good pimp, five hookers and a black albino informant. There's violence and paranoia, sobriety and alcohol related blackouts, it's a rocky ride and I shan't spoil it for you.

Last month I saw an Oscar nominated Denzel Washington as a highly functioning alcoholic on a downwards spiral in Flight. Last night I watched a highly praised Mary Elizabeth Winstead as somebody so desperately in need of booze that she pissed on the floor of a shop and fled with the alcholol whilst the clerk was distracted in indie flick Smashed. 2012 seems to be a love-in for American cinema and drunks. Neither of those strong performances and powerful portraits come even remotely close to capturing the pain, the complex internal struggle of Matt Scudder's alcoholism in Eight Million Ways To Die however.

Everything Matt thinks and feels and does rings true, this is the harsh reality of a an addiction, do you want to die or do you want to fight back, the decision has to be made and either way it's going to be painful. But Block doesn't shoehorn this literary study of the weakness of man in to his already successful series of PI novels, ignoring the unsightly bulges and splitting seams, he crafts his study to his character and format therefore creating one of the most memorable pieces of fiction I've read yet. You develop an appreciation of this man over four novels and then suddenly you're watching him self-destruct, it's a tough read and you spend 350 pages rooting for the guy to come good, to find a way out of the darkness, hanging on his every emotion and action as if it is your life that is in danger and not his.

There are many an alcoholic private eye in the hard-boiled novel racket, they drink a bottle of gin for breakfast and wash it down with a couple of Irish coffees and function well enough to sling out that all important sarcastic simile at just the right moment but Block takes that cliche and dismantles it, leaving you with an honest portrait of a good man with all of his faults open to the world to see, functioning the best he can, one day at a time.

Alcoholism aside this story belongs to the relationships Scudder develops, the conversations he has with people along the way and the positive effect he has on people. Scudder is a good guy after all. The friendship that develops with the pimp, Chance, is one of the most impressive pieces of writing in a book filled with impressive writing, whilst the relationship with Durkin the cop works as a mirror and catharsis, it's a plot device but also something very important to a man like Scudder, he is a man living in forced isolation who needs human contact to thrive and Durkin helps Matt thrive. I found myself hoping that these relationships would last, Matt needs these people in his life whether he has realised it or not and I look forward to finding out how/if it does in the next book.

To curtail the risk of rambling I shall cut this love-in short and simply state that this is one of the best private eye novels I've read, I'm more than happy to place it next to that other great drunken beast The Last Good Kiss in the pantheon of the genre, and you all should get addicted to Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder at your earliest convenience.

Block Anonymous is a not-for-profit organisation formed to help people like this reviewer get over their addiction to reading Lawrence Block and we would like to invite you all to our meetings held in all major cities of the world if you are thinking about picking up this book or failing that carefully read the warning label before partaking in any activity involving the reading of a novel written by the American "crime" writer Lawrence Block. We have yet to successfully cure this addiction but with the help of your generous donation we will continue fighting for their reading souls.
Profile Image for Mara.
401 reviews282 followers
March 16, 2014
What starts out as Matthew Scudder, fresh off of a drinking bender that landed him in a hospital, helping a hooker "get out of the game" turns into layer upon layer of murder and mystery in a city where people keep killing each other and there are eight million ways to die.

This installment of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series takes things to the next level. Things are richer, deeper; the grime is grimier- it's just more in all the right ways. Since some cleverer people have come before me and said most of the substantive things worth saying about what makes this story all that it is (Kemper and Trudi's reviews are worth checking out), I'll just share some of the miscellaneous bits and pieces that hopped into my mixed-up mind as I followed Scudder about the city this time around.

"I'm looking for a particular pimp."
"They're all particular. Some of them are downright finicky."

When dead hookers turn up, it should be of no surprise that a detective is out pimp hunting, but the way Scudder takes it all in just struck me as hilarious and (for you South Park aficionados out there) immediately reminded me of Butters' Bottom Bitch .

Butters at Pimp Convention

Matt's trying to get his 90 in 90 together one day at a time, so there are plenty of rich AA/recovery observations made as he struggles to confront and understand his alcoholism.

He was holding up his end of a typical alcoholic conversation, wherein two drunks take polite turns talking aloud to their own selves.

Like most friends of Bill W. at some point, Scudder sits through meetings thinking that it's all self-congratulatory bullshit, that he's an exception to the rule, I could go on...but seeing the absurdity doesn't read as criticism. Block does a good job of letting Scudder's flaws come out, while managing to keep the reader from feeling like they're taking his moral inventory (heck, Matt's not at his Fourth Step yet anyhow).
Profile Image for Richard.
452 reviews108 followers
November 22, 2016

This book oozes style. Ooze rhymes with booze, one thing that heavily influences this story and is a driving force behind Scudder. Forget the main plot thread in here, its standard fare without much of a mystery or intrigue. The main thread is the constant struggle/battle Scudder has with his drinking which has been touched upon before in this series but is really at the forefront here.

There are some intriguing characters along the journey too, people from Scudder’s past who we know from previous outings and some new ones. But one of my favourite characters is Chance, the pimp with a heart and good coffee. The interactions between him and Scudder were some of the best for me and I was torn between what to think of him along the way.

Another star for this novel is the city of New York. It’s hard for me to picture the New York described here compared to the New York portrayed in current day culture but it seems like a rank place with many perilous corners to turn but one which feels like a well fitted glove to Scudder. His philosophy of Goyakod (get off your ass, knock on doors) works wonders for him in a time where you couldn’t just call up Google and find the answers at your fingertips.

The one issue I had with this wasn’t anything to do with the story but with the narration. The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Lawrence Block, the author, and it just proves that those who write the books shouldn’t necessarily read the books. This would have been an easy 5 stars with an actor who could do a couple of voices or add another layer of grit to it but instead I got a bland narrator who, whilst certainly not the worst I’ve heard, didn’t add anything to the story and in fact took something away from it.

A really good book though and by far the strongest in the series, each novel is building on the previous and is getting better and better. I just hope I can track the next one down in audio format which is becoming somewhat harder than expected!!
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,080 reviews621 followers
April 27, 2022
I’ve read all of LB’s Matt Scudder series, most of them long ago. In fact, so many years back that I’ve long since forgotten the plots. So as Block is reaching that time of life when his writing output has reduced from a flood to a dribble I thought I’d pick off a few of them for a second time. I decided to start with this one for two reasons: firstly, it was available to me as a freebie on Audible, and secondly because it’s read by the author himself. I’d enjoyed some short stories in this format recently, so why not go the whole hog.

This is the fifth book in the series, first published in 1982. Scudder has left the police force and also his wife and two boys by this stage and is holed up at a hotel in Manhattan. Here he works as in unlicensed investigator, finding his clients largely by word of mouth. This case starts out as what seems to be a straightforward request from a prostitute to help her extricate herself from ‘the life’ but soon turns into a murder investigation. Scudder walks the streets of NYC, knocking on doors and setting up meetings in coffee houses and bars – he has no office. When he’s not working the case he’s propping up the bar at his favourite gin mill, downing bourbon and coffee in roughly equal quantities.

In fact this book is half about the case Matt is investigating – in itself satisfying and complex enough to hold my attention – and half an account of a man wrestling with a booze addiction he’s reluctant to admit to himself. The alcoholic is, of course, Matt. This element is so well described, so richly experienced, that it’s perhaps the primary component of the book. Now, Block himself has admitted that he’s been known to take a libation or two and it’s clear that the author knows his way around a twelve step program - take from this what you will.

Another thing that sprung to my mind as I was working my way through this story is how much harder investigation was before mobile phones, internet and DNA sampling. Harder but in another way, simpler too – nobody was going to hand you the answer by way of an email or via tip of a swab, you had to follow the clues, sweat the suspects and deduct it for yourself. As a fan of crime fiction novels I just find this to be far more satisfying. There’s also much more talk here than action but that okay, I like talk. And Block does it better than anyone else.

The title of this book is taken from a drunken cop’s rant on the violence prevalent in the city at this point in time. Its’s both a story of it’s time and also a timeless story. Scudder is a brilliant vehicle for Block too, a man who lives simply but has complex undercurrents steering him through his days: there’s obviously the booze thing but also an accidental killing in his past, his abandonment of his wife and children and a need – one he doesn’t understand himself – to drop into churches for quiet contemplation and to tithe ten percent of everything he earns.

Block’s reading of the tale is perfect, he sounds like he’s been on the cough sweets for some time but I really enjoyed his raspy delivery. If you’ve yet to catch up with this series and you enjoy a crime caper of the hard boiled variety then I’d really urge you to try this series. I very much doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Profile Image for Ben.
969 reviews90 followers
April 30, 2018
This might be my favorite of the Scudder series. A typical one starts strong, with a re-introduction to the characters, careful observations of New York, and solid, human dialog. But then most of the stories fall a little flat halfway through, overcome by the bland, formulaic mystery plot. This stays strong throughout. The characters start strong, and continue developing all the way through, with Scudder struggling in particular with his alcoholism, but learning how to handle it. The plot also stays compelling, with a good mix of detective work (interview after interview) and action. (The mystery's resolution is telegraphed far in advance, but I didn't mind.)
Profile Image for Mike.
306 reviews149 followers
May 1, 2022

It was really only once I started the semi-infamous '86 film version on YouTube, which inexplicably featured palm trees and Jeff Bridges in a Hawaiian shirt and overhead shots of the sun-drenched freeways of Los Angeles, that I realized how attached I'd become to the rainy noirish NYC setting of Block's novel (coke played a major role in the plot of the movie as well, in further contrast to the novel, but that made sense to me once I noticed that Oliver Stone had a screenwriting credit). That setting was a significant part of why I enjoyed this- though even within Manhattan, there are only a few places that Matt Scudder ever really goes: the hotel right around the border (I think) of midtown and uptown where he checks his messages at the desk before going up to his room, the library, a cafe called Armstrong's, and AA meetings throughout the city. There's something grid-like and circumscribed about his movements that mirrors the layout of the city, like he's a rook in chess and can move only horizontally or vertically- which made the movie's opening over the expanse of southern California all the more jarring (it almost seemed as though Jeff Bridges was still playing the same character from 1981's California-set Cutter's Way). Anyway, the copyright of this book is '82, so it has a real New-York-is-hell-on-earth vibe, including a few scenes where Scudder sits in Armstrong's with the newspaper, fatalistically reading over all the hellish crimes that have taken place in the city that day. I'd guess judging by the copyright that Block probably wrote this just before AIDS became known to the public, as reports of a mysterious and deadly virus would likely have figured in Scudder's reading and helped confirm the book's thesis- make that eight million and one ways. I suppose I love the vibe of stories like this, and that of NYC movies of the era like Cruising (1980), in part because I grew up in New Jersey and "the city" had an allure, but it had already become the Starbucks Guliani version of New York before I spent any real time there; I never got to see up close the subway rats the size of people, and so Dangerous New York fascinates me in a similar way to the Soviet Union, another civilization that vanished around the time I was six.

But yes there is a plot here, a mystery involving a murdered prostitute who had approached Scudder for help getting out of quote, the life, unquote. If I'm underselling the mystery, I guess that's because it feels somewhat incidental to the story and a bit generic, the epigraph from Poe even seems to suggest that, which probably sounds like a bad thing; and granted, I do think it's the least inspired part of the book. It was more interesting to fall into the rhythms of Scudder's life, which speaks to the quality of Block's descriptions, dialogue, and sense of place. It's not Chandler, and initially I took Block's prose as hard-boiled boilerplate, but stick with it and I think you'll find that he has his own unique voice: precise, observant, darkly humorous, a little perverse. And while I was mostly underwhelmed by the plot, there are nevertheless a few pretty riveting scenes towards the end, when Scudder finally and inevitably catches up with the seriously deranged killer- or vice-versa, rather.

I read Eight Million Ways to Die in order to scratch my Chandler itch after The Long Goodbye, and I don't think it's at that level. But I gather from a few explicit nods in the novel itself that Block is a huge Chandler fan, and probably wouldn't object to my saying that. Anyway, he wrote quite a few of these Scudder books, nearly twenty it looks like, and I can see how people get addicted to them .

* (I heard a strange anecdote while I was reading this book. A friend's brother was in New York on a Sunday night, and went to an AA meeting in the Village. He left the meeting...and next thing he knew, he was closer to midtown, on the phone with his girlfriend, unable to tell her where he'd been or what had happened. He'd lost about two hours, it turned out, and his head was throbbing. Listening to this story, I didn't want to suggest it aloud, but my first thought was that maybe he'd gone into a bar, gotten real drunk real quickly, and blacked out, as Matt Scudder does in this novel. That doesn't seem to have been the case, though. A bank statement revealed that he'd stopped in a restaurant after AA, a memory that came back to him eventually, and something must have happened after leaving the restaurant to give him the concussion the doctor later diagnosed him with. The working theory is that he was hit by a car, or maybe by a biker. Whatever the case, when the moon runs red with blood, New York still occasionally remembers what it once was.)
Profile Image for Cathy DuPont.
456 reviews171 followers
September 8, 2013
Lawrence Block has quickly become one of my top favorite hard-boiled/noir writers. To date I've read 11 of his books including a couple as short stories.

As you may have noticed, I've already claimed to love the pimp, Chance, in this story. Can't help myself; the guy is a real cool dude, not your stereotypical pimp. He doesn't drive flashy cars, wear flashy clothes, hang out at pubs, taverns and the such. And, he's good to his girls. He is none of those things we generally think of when we think of pimps.

Matt Scudder is, as we know, an alcoholic and has been since book number one in the series. So no spoiler there. Well, Matt continues to fight his demons while at the same time, trying to find the murderer of one of Chance's 'girls.'

This is the best Scudder I've read and they've all been great. I think I've given them all four stars, maybe one other five. (After reading this, I want to change that five star to a four star, this was sooo very good; such an excellent read.)

This is, by the way, number five in the Matt Scudder series. Matt (we're now on a first name basis) is not a licensed P.I. but does favors for friends (or friends of friends) and gets paid for his service. He tithes (10%) all his income, which is quite interesting and sends checks to his wife and two boys. He acknowledges he should send more money more frequently than he does.

This storyline was one of the best mystery storylines that I've read in years. And I cannot express how much I enjoyed reading this book. I was mad when I had something to do and I had to put it down. And couldn't wait to pick it back up when I finished with my chore.

This book just pushes me to pick up the next one and I've got a list of books to read which is a mile long. But I cannot wait until #6 in the series rolls around and it will soon.

After this, I'm no longer messing around with these so-so, not worth my time books; these sissified reads. I'm just putting them down.

Like someone said, "life's too short to read a lousy book." I'm sure that I said something like that but with stronger language.

The stonger language is due of course, to my reading the hard-boiled, noir genre. I can put blame on something else, it's not ME. Passing the blame? I learned that from Matt...all the reasons in the world to have a drink, blaming something else. I came up with a lot, I mean a lot of reasons to not do a chore and instead read Eight Million Ways to Die. A lot, believe me, of reasons. Every one was worth it.
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,339 reviews315 followers
July 28, 2023
Мат Скъдър е помолен от луксозна проститутка да ѝ помогне да се измъкне от хватката на сводника си. Не му е много на сърце тази задача, но приема - парите са си пари, а той има нужда от тях. Отключилите се събития в последствие го поставят в смъртна опасност, Ню Йорк е доста страховито място в този времеви период.

Междувременно, той започва да се бори с алкохолизма си. От години е тежък пияч и здравето му е сериозно разклатено, вече е бил в болница и е получил пристъпи на несвяст, траещи часове...

Лорънс Блок чудесно надгражда предните си четири романа и "Осем милиона начина да умреш" е отлично тяхно продължение!
Profile Image for Mohammed  Abdikhader  Firdhiye .
418 reviews2 followers
November 15, 2010
Another amazing novel by Block,i kept thinking wow this is something.It was very much about Scudder himself,his struggles with alcohol that made it so strong this time too. The case was even less important than the novel before. It was complex story emotionally,i could have read 340+ pages of Matt Scudder and his problems without the crime plot,the violence.

The personal struggles made it much more darker than any violence could have been. I didnt care about the fact the case,the crime plot wasnt the most interesting in the series so far. One of those few crime books that could have been as great without the exciting crime plot and if it was a mundane non-genre novel. The characters,athmosphere,emotions was by the far the most impressive thing about the novel.

Its hard not get so impressed by this series when too many crime books,series are the same old stories,same formula and dont have near the same weight,realer than real characters. I could read 20 books about Matt Scudder going from and to his hotel,reading only his thoughts.

January 31, 2019
Θεωρείται από τα καλύτερα του είδους του και θα έλεγα πως έχει όλα τα φόντα για να ισχύει. Παρότι το μυστήριο και η δράση δεν ήταν ιδιαίτερα του στυλ μου (όπως ��αι σε άλλα βιβλία του Μπλοκ που έχω διαβάσει), μπορώ να πω πως ήταν μια απολαυστική ιστορία με ωραίες ανατροπές και πολύ καλογραμμένους χαρακτήρες. Το πιο αξιοσημείωτο βέβαια ε��ναι το γεγονός πως εδώ έχουμε ίσως ένα από τα καλύτερα βιβλία για τον αλκοολισμό που έχουν υπάρξει, μέσα από μια πρωτοπρόσωπη αφήγηση που σε καθίζει δίπλα στον ντετέκτιβ Ματ και την συνειδητοποίηση της εξάρτησής του από το ποτό.
Δοκιμάστε να το βρείτε, αξίζει την προσοχή σας!
Profile Image for Lynn.
1,608 reviews47 followers
March 11, 2016
This book is why I read detective fiction. It's not the mystery, crimes and action, but I do enjoy reading about that stuff. I love the description of the mind of detectives and their efforts, frustrations, success and failure. Matthew Scudder is especially wonderful to read about, maybe because he has so many problems and hides his sadness. In this book, a lot of people are sad. I am so glad I eavesdropped on their lives rather than live them. Why read about a life like your own? The weather was beautiful here today and I made a nice meatloaf for supper.
Profile Image for Meg.
171 reviews11 followers
June 5, 2015
These books just keep getting better! Unlicensed PI Matt Scudder returns, fresh out of hospital after a bout of alcohol poisoning and on the case of a dead hooker. This book represents a change of heart for Matt - he finally acknowledges that his drinking is out of control and embarks on the 12 step program. I really like the character development as the series progresses - Scudder seemed a caricature of a hard boiled gumshoe in the first book but he becomes more human with each book. So happy that I've still got a dozen books left in this series :-)
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 24 books1,324 followers
July 28, 2023
2023 reads, #60. I read this at the recommendation of one of my freelance clients, who writes thrillers set in the world of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step program, and who himself is in the middle of a reading project regarding similar "Addiction Fiction" titles. Apparently this is a rather famous one from this genre, in that author Lawrence Block had actually published four novels already featuring this book's main character, private investigator and former NYPD cop Matthew Scudder, and up to here had simply portrayed him as a typical hard-drinking gritty private eye in the mold of a Sam Spade, making it unexpected and welcome to many of his readers to suddenly reveal in the fifth book that Scudder's drinking problem was actually much more serious than he'd let on in the previous volumes, so much so that he begins attending AA meetings in this one, albeit reluctantly at first and never actually participating himself. (Interestingly, this is where Block had planned to end the entire series; but he still owed a Scudder short story to an editor friend, and enjoyed the process so much that he ended up writing another twelve Scudder novels over the course of the following 30 years.)

That's an interesting choice for a novel that's otherwise all about the moral decay and financial bottoming-out the city of New York went through in the years this book was written (it was originally published in 1982), which makes this book essentially a look at what Sam Spade would be like if plucked out of the 1930s and dropped into the middle of Taxi Driver. That sets us up for a really dark and bleak story here, in which a prostitute hires Scudder to help her break things off with her pimp and then winds up dead a few days later, but with it almost certain that the pimp himself didn't actually kill her. (Indeed, the pimp ends up hiring Scudder himself to solve the murder so to take the heat off of him, knowing that cops in the '70s wouldn't bother doing any actual investigating about yet another dead whore in a broken-down and dilapidated pre-gentrification Manhattan.)

To be sure, this is a procedural through and through, so unlike these endless mediocre contemporary Kindle Unlimited crime novels I'm always choking my way through these days, there's no big gimmick here behind the story, no big action set pieces, just a former cop putting in the legwork to very methodically and slowly solve the case. And unlike those gimmicky mediocre contemporary Kindle Unlimited crime novels, the solution isn't some big surprise that relies on information that was deliberately withheld from the reader, but rather Block in the classic style actually lays in every bit of information you need to know in order to solve the crime yourself before Scudder does, a highly satisfying intellectual game that I think I'm going to start insisting on a little more from the crime novels I read from now on.

Meanwhile, Block is totally on target when it comes to the AA meetings he describes and what the people who are there say at them, with I suspect him lifting some of this wholesale from actual AA meetings that were going on in New York at the time; and for a book this old, he does a shockingly great job at presenting a fully rounded, nuanced and complex black pimp as one of the major characters, as well as taking the time to look at all the prostitutes in his ring one at a time in detail, and examining the various reasons each took up hooking and what all of them were getting out of the deal. In fact, there's really only one problem here, but it's a big enough one to knock an entire star off my score, which is that pretty much every single scene in the book is about 25 percent longer than it ideally should be, with Block giving us a 400-page book that in a perfect world should've been more like 300. Other than that, though, I found this to be a real breath of fresh air compared to all the crappy contemporary crime novels I've been reading through the Prime Reads program over the last several years, the very definition of an old-school hardboiled rat-a-tat noir thriller, with of course the big bonus added of it also being one of the first-ever books to take an insider's look at the daily ins-and-outs of the AA sobriety community. Although it can perhaps be skipped by those who aren't naturally crime fans already, those who are will absolutely want to pick this up, a classic of the genre that's now one of the most famous titles of Block's 100 book (and counting!) career.
Profile Image for The Girl with the Sagittarius Tattoo.
2,226 reviews277 followers
July 13, 2023
This one put me in a funk. I swear it was 50% murder mystery, and 50% the hour-by-hour plight of a man struggling with alcoholism. What a downer... but the mystery half of it was good.

Ultimately, Matthew Scudder isn't a good guy. He killed a little girl in the line of duty, causing him to lose heart and quit the force. Soon after, he left his wife and two sons. Nowadays he wakes up with a few fingers of scotch, drinks beers with lunch so he can be sober enough to work, and ends each day with bourbon and water. Oh, and the only people he spends personal time with away from the bars are prostitutes. They're good to "talk to."

What made Eight Million Ways to Die particularly painful to get through is that he keeps going to AA meetings every day, regardless of whether he's on or off the wagon. He just refills his coffee cup and listens to others talk, never participating himself. It was weird to me that he would make himself attend meetings while still being so cavalier about drinking, but I must admit I don't have an understanding of how addicts think (thankfully).

The good news is that by the end of the book it looks like Matt has a breakthrough. Maybe this means the next book won't be about him falling off the wagon again! We'll see, in the auspiciously titled When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.
Profile Image for Bill.
947 reviews313 followers
June 19, 2012
Back in the early 90s I read four of the Matthew Scudder novels. They were quite good, and just the type of dark noir I was into at the time.
Eventually I had enough and moved on to many other authors and Lawrence Block fell off my radar. Until I saw a great review by Stephen for Block's Grifter's Game from the Hard Case Crime collection.
I read that short story, was thoroughly impressed, and set my mind to
visiting Matt Scudder again after a 20 year break.

Eight Million Ways to Die was published before the four I had read. It's not absolutely imperative to read these in order, but it is recommended not only because of minor spoilers, but to follow the process of Scudder's battle with alcoholism.

From a mystery standpoint, the story is quite good, and would rank a high three or four-star read. Good, but what made the book so engaging for me was Scudder's struggle to stay sober. I was set on giving the book three solid stars (i.e. I liked it), but the very last line of the story encompassed all that had happened and rounded out perspective on Matthew Scudder's character.

I'll typically bump a star for a novel that excels on some aspect,
but this is the first time I've bumped two stars to make this an "It was amazing" read. Like I've said in many reviews, character development is number one for me, and Block did something really special here.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,182 reviews2,791 followers
May 17, 2015
In this hard-boiled detective novel, featuring Matthew Scudder as a retired cop now working as an unlicensed PI, he investigates the murder of a young prostitute. When you read a Block novel you know the crime and investigation will be complex, the characters fully developed, and the dialogue snappy. What really sets this series above the others in the genre is Scudder himself. He's a complicated guy who continues to fight his addictions and demons. The seedy and crime-ridden atmosphere of NYC in the early 80s is palpable and parts of the book reads like a social commentary of the times.

Interesting fact: The title is a take-off on an old tv series, The Naked City, in which each episode ends with the line, "There are eight million stories to tell in the naked city. This has been one of them."
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