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Matthew Scudder #7

Out on the Cutting Edge

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Matthew Scudder Crime Novel #7. A master.... Lawrence Block's estimable private eye Matthew Scudder is one of the most fully developed and credible characters working in the genre today (Chicago Tribune). New York is a city that seduces dreamers... then eats their dreams. Matt Scudder understands the futility of his search for a longtime missing Midwestern innocent who wanted to be an actress. But her frantic father heard that Scudder is the best -- and now the ex-cop-turned-p.i. is scouring the hell called Hell's Kitchen looking for anything that might resemble a lead. In this neighborhood of the lost, he's finding love -- and death -- in the worst possible places. About Scudder: Matt Scudder -- ex-cop, unlicensed private eye, sober alcoholic -- is an unusual hero. Consorting with cops and criminals alike, Scudder's a man who believes in justice, but who knows that no one is innocent. He is the complex and intriguing hero of a classic contemporary noir series by Grand Master of Mystery Lawrence Block.

352 pages, ebook

First published January 1, 1989

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About the author

Lawrence Block

771 books2,683 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 225 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
December 30, 2019

This is a typical Matt Scudder mystery: slow as molasses, slim on plot, very grim—and totally absorbing.

Scudder—the unlicensed private detective who “does favors” for money—has two cases to solve: 1) the disappearance of young actress/waitress Paula Hoeldtke from Muncie Indiana, and 2) the mystery of his new AA buddy Eddie Dunphy, who makes an appointment with Scudder to discuss something in his past that bothers him and is found dead in his apartment—apparently of auto-erotic asphyxiation—the next day. In the course of his investigations he acquires a dangerous new lady (she drinks) and a dangerous new friend (they call him “The Butcher Boy,” and not for cutting up the kind of animals you'd think).

As I said, the plot is thin and pretty slow, but the down-at-heels NYC setting is so good, the seedy alcoholic atmosphere so well evoked, and the characters (especially Mick “The Butcher Boy” Ballou) so well delineated that I didn't even mind it that I figured out the plot's last surprise before I was supposed to.

Lawrence Block is a master, and this is a very good book.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,820 followers
June 25, 2021
And so begins the second phase of Matt Scudder.

Block had written about Matt trying to get sober in the mid-‘80s with 8 Million Ways to Die, and then he had done a flashback novel when Matt was still boozing during the ‘70s in When the Sacred Ginmill Closes so there’s been a pretty substantial gap in Matt’s timeline when this story starts up in 1989. (Thanks to winning an ARC of the upcoming A Drop of the Hard Stuff, I can report that Scudder fans will get some more info about what Matt was up to.)

Matt is over three years sober and has become a regular fixture at AA meetings. He still works as an unlicensed private detective and has been trying to track down a missing girl. With no leads in that case and without a steady girlfriend or the circle of bar buddies he used to hang with, Matt is a little bored and lonely. A former small time crook named Eddie approaches Matt after an AA meeting and asks if he would hear his fifth step, a confession of the things that he feels badly about it. Matt agrees, but then doesn’t hear from Eddie. When he goes looking for him, Matt finds Eddie dead under odd circumstances. Was it an accident or murder?

Matt meets a couple of new friends in this one. The first is a woman that he starts dating and likes very much, but he’s quietly conflicted about her drinking. The second is a man who will become a very important figure in the Scudder series: Mick Ballou. (Oddly, he’s called Mickey in this first one. I always remember him as being referred to as Mick.)

Ballou is a bigger than life Irish gangster who likes to wear his father’s old butcher apron to an early mass in the meat district of New York, and it’s probably best that you not ask him about any fresh stains you see on it. Mick also may or may not have once carried an enemy’s head around in a bowling bag while he was bar hopping. Oddly, the hard drinking criminal and the alcoholic ex-cop feel a kinship, and this one hints at the long friendship that eventually develops between the two.

Matt’s life without drinking and the introduction of Ballou mark this as a change to the series, but it’s still the same incredibly well-written account of a low-key but complicated detective.
Profile Image for James Thane.
Author 9 books6,915 followers
August 27, 2014
Matthew Scudder is now three years sober, but he's still living in his tiny Hell's Kitchen hotel room and prowling the increasingly mean streets of New York as an unlicensed P.I. Crime is rising; the city seems dirtier than ever, and the number of homeless and other street people seems to be rising dramatically.

Into all of this steps Warren Hoeldtke, a Subaru dealer from Muncie, Indiana. His beautiful young daughter, Paula, graduated with a degree in Theater Arts from Ball State, and then set out for New York with stars in her eyes. Like so many other wide-eyed innocents from the Midwest, Paula got a job waiting tables, enrolled in acting classes and managed to land a few small roles in very Off-Off-Broadway productions.

As a faithful daughter, she also called home on a regular basis, right up until the time she didn't. After a month or so of silence, her father came to New York to find that Paula had apparently moved out of her apartment, had her phone disconnected and vanished without leaving a forwarding address. Hoeldtke goes to the police, but Paula is an adult; there's no suggestion of foul play, and there's nothing they can do.

Hoeldtke thus shows up on Scudder's doorstep and asks for Matt's help. Scudder insists that there's not much he can do either, especially given the time that's elapsed since Hoeldtke last heard from his daughter. But when Hoeldtke pleads with him, Matt reluctantly accepts the man's check and goes to work, pounding the pavement, talking to people and distributing Paula's photo in the hope that someone will point him in the right direction.

In the meantime, Scudder is staying sober, one day at a time, and attending a lot of AA meetings. He gets to know another recovering alcoholic named Eddie Dunphy. Dunphy is clearly troubled about something and says that he wants to get his thoughts in order and then talk to Scudder about it. But then Dunphy is found dead, apparently having hanged himself during a bit of auto-erotic sex play.

Dunphy's death is an open and shut matter, but Scudder is troubled, wanting to know what Dunphy intended to tell him. Thus he winds up poking into the last few months of Dunphy's life while he simultaneously searches for Paula Hoeldtke.

The twin investigations make for another compelling story and the principal point of interest in this book is that in it, Matt meets Mick Ballou, the owner of Grogan's Open House, an infamous Hell's Kitchen saloon. Beginning with this book, Matt and Mick will gradually become close friends and will spend a good many nights spinning tales until all hours. It's another great read as well as the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,925 reviews10.6k followers
September 18, 2012
A car dealer from Indiana hires Matthew Scudder to find his missing daughter, who went to New York to become an actress. Meanwhile, a fellow AA member of Scudder's dies in his apartment in what appears to be an accidental death. Can Scudder find the missing girl and figure out what really happened to his friend?

Out on the Cutting Edge is yet another of Lawrence Block's great Matthew Scudder books. As usual, the ending was a big surprise. The character of Mickey Ballou was a nice contrast to Scudder and has future promise as a character. Having Scudder join AA a couple books ago looks like it was a good decision, not only for the good of the Scudder character but also to provide a source of future plots.

While I wouldn't start with this one, it's a good entry in the Scudder series.
Profile Image for carol..
1,535 reviews7,871 followers
August 22, 2012
Another fine entry into the Scudder canon. Scudder is always saying he's had a flexible kind of morality, but the truth is, he's one of the most ethical people around, and this book shows the extent of his growth. He tries to do right and be fair, even if it's dealing with a small-time hood or a menacing Irishman with ties to organized crime. As always, characterization shines, and the plotting isn't anything to sneeze at either. The search for a missing woman gives Scudder focus, and now that he's been sober, he's starting to get urges for something a bit more than passing time.

Synopsis: Scudder has come a long way. It's been three years since he stopped drinking, and even more significantly, he's comfortable enough to lead a meeting now and then. After one of the meetings, Eddie comes up to him and hints around he'd like to talk. Scudder recognizes him as a crook, but patiently listens to Eddie as he confesses he is stuck on the fifth step of AA, the one about confessing your sins. Meanwhile, Scudder's methodically working on tracking down a young woman from Indiana who has gone missing after coming to New York to break into acting. Scudder follows her trail from boarding house to acting class to various bars as he tries to get a feel for her life. Visiting Eddie's apartment leads him to meeting his super, and Scudder starts to fall hard. It's sweet to watch him come emotionally alive. Unfortunately, she's a heavy drinker, and he's finding that he's spending more and more time in bars trying to work leads.

Did I mention it's seriously fine? There's so much to love here: a decent mystery. Characterization and emotional depth that shines, without being overwrought or needing to use a single 'smoldering glance.' Period New York--there's virtually a throw-away scene when Scudder interviews a worker at the Actors' Equity who bemoans everyone being ill, and how "the earth has AIDS. We're all whirling merrily through the void on a dying planet, and gay people are just doing their usual number, being shamelessly trendy as always. Right out in front on the cutting edge of death." Makes me wonder how heartbreaking it must have been to be in New York during the early 80s.

More tiny New York vignettes capture the atmosphere of the city and the time: "Around one-thirty it started raining lightly. Almost immediately the umbrella sellers turned up on the streetcorners. You'd have thought they had existed previously in spore form, springing miraculously to life when a drop of water touched them."

And Scudder's mercilessly logical self-evaluation:
"There was a woman at our table named Helen who'd been sober about the same length of time I had, and for a while now I'd been toying with the idea of asking her out. Now I placed her under covert surveillance, and I kept coming up with data that got entered in the minus column. Her laugh was grating, she needed some dental work, and every sentence out of her mouth had the phrase you know in it. By the time she was done with her hamburger, our romance had died unborn. I'll tell you, it's a great way to operate. You can run through women like wildfire and they never even know it."

Perfect, for so many reasons.

Why not a '5'? I suppose because I save that for books I must own, and I'm okay for the moment to borrow these from the library. I may reconsider with this one.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
May 20, 2021
On the Cutting Edge is Lawrence Black’s seventh crime novel focused on Matthew Scudder, an ex-cop and (finally) sober alcoholic trying with great difficulty to keep some balance in his life. As a detective, he is always on the “cutting edge” of death. He’s killed and people have tried to kill him. As an alcoholic, he’s always on that cutting edge, too, one drink away from the hospital; he lives each day with the guilt of having accidentally killed a little girl; he imagines her at the age she would have been now. He used to drink coffee with bourbon, on the knife edge of caffeine to stay awake and alcohol to sedate himself. Having been a mildly crooked cop, he befriends criminals, sex workers, as cops and detectives often do; he's in murky moral waters and so then he tithes, and gives money to the homeless on the streets: On the edge, he could go either way. He’s not a saint, but he’s a pretty good man, trying to go good things, and in this book getting better, but he’s also in a state of despair, divorced, never sees his kids, newly broken up with his girlfriend Jan, just as she has decided to go--as he does--to AA meetings.

In this book Scudder isn’t drinking, but when he gets bad news, he is more likely to drink, and early on, he gets sad news about an AA guy he is sponsoring, Eddie Dunphy. The guy turns up dead and Scudder thinks:

“I wanted a drink. There were a hundred reasons why a man will want a drink, but I wanted one now for the most elementary reason of all. I didn't want to feel what I was feeling, and a voice within was telling me that I needed a drink, that I couldn't bear it without it.”

Then he hooks up with Willa, the super for Eddie's building, who has her own booze problems; he tells her,

“I spent half the night at an AA meeting, and the other half in a gin mill.”
and Willa replies, “Oh, that sounds like a nice, balanced life!”

A man whose daughter, Paula Hoeldtke, goes missing, pays Scudder to find her. He agrees. Paula lived in Willa's building, as did Eddie. In every one of these Scudder mysteries the central person in question is a young woman in some kind of peril--lost, in danger, living alone--or sometimes that woman is already dead and he is hired to find out how and why. He’s like a dog with a bone; he’s not really looking only for Paula, but looking to find that little girl he killed and bring her back to life.

I won’t say what happens to the young woman, Paula, but it appears the guy, Eddie, was killed by a “Mickey Finn,” a drink laced with chloral hydrate, which is given to someone without their knowledge, knocking them out. Sometimes it kills them. (Chicago newspapers document that a Michael "Mickey" Finn managed the Lone Star Saloon and sometimes used knockout drops to incapacitate and rob some of his customers). I like the references in this 1989 book to the AIDS disaster, too, felt acutely in New York. It adds another layer of despair to the book. Everyone is alone, trying to make connections, trying to survive, and Scudder is one of these people, just trying his best to be a good man.
Profile Image for Mara.
400 reviews280 followers
July 26, 2016
Potentially Unnecessary Preamble
I have this thing, a compulsion perhaps, wherein I cannot not finish a book (yes, that double negative needed to happen). I always worry that the ending will be so amazing as to have made any pain involved in the process worth it (that, and I've managed to convince myself that if I don't finish one book I'll just never finish another book again). Let me be clear, I love me my Matthew Scudder way too much to even consider not finishing one of his exploits, but the way this one comes together in the end really sealed the deal for my life as an inveterate book finisher.

Wonderful Reviews...have already been written about this one. I know, great reviews exist for a lot of books, but summarizing is not my strength, and, well, I'm feeling kind of lazy today. Looking for musings on Scudder's New York? Trudi's got you covered. Killer synopsis? See Carol. Timeline clarification and a meditation on a new, kick-ass character? That's Kemper-controlled territory. Want someone to share in your ending-induced shock and awe? Brandon's your boy. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

So what could I possibly contribute to the existing corpus of Scudder love?

Obscure Archer References (Duh!)
When we come across the lifeless body of one of Scudder's AA pals, perhaps due to autoerotic asphyxiation (shoutout to Sir Augustus Stilton aka Choke n Stroke ), his magazine of choice features a lady with "large breasts...tightly wrapped with a lamp cord...her face contorted in an unconvincing grimace of pain and terror." Can you say tit-bondage porn ?

Pam Poovey Tit Bondage Porn

Also, I won't tell you how piracy is involved, but these musings sounded pretty familiar:
"Dear God. How can things like this happen in this day and age? Piracy, you think of men with gold earrings and peg legs and, and, parrots. Errol Flynn in the movies. It seems like something out of another time."

Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,416 followers
March 17, 2013

Scudder is three years sober when we run into him again in Book 7, Out on the Cutting Edge. He's faithfully attending meetings, and even leading a few when the mood strikes him. He's also still living in his spare hotel room lodgings and with a lot more time on his hands now that he's quit the bar scene and sipping bourbon coffee by the quart. While the vapor fumes of booze no longer waft from his person, there is yet an elemental quality of loneliness that continues to seep from the pores of our favorite New Yorker.

No wonder then that he should take up the case of a missing young woman at the behest of her distraught parents, and that he should find himself taking a much closer look into the sudden death of fellow AA member Eddie. Eddie is a man who dies with dark secrets on his lips, and Scudder's spidey senses are urging him to uncover those secrets no matter what the cost.

The thing I love most about the Scudder books is that they are such fine pieces of place -- Scudder's New York is just as much a character as Scudder himself. We've hit the late 80's where rents are sky-rocketing in the Big Apple and rent control is a landlord's sworn enemy. I find the details Block is able to pepper his books with always fascinating. He drops them into the story like a pro, as they work seamlessly side-by-side with the unfolding mystery. Like when Scudder interviews an actor who, with bitter amusement, comments on all the young men sick with AIDS:
We're all whirling merrily through the void on a dying planet, and gay people are just doing their usual number, being shamelessly trendy as always. Right out in front on the cutting edge of death.
It's a heart-breaking sentiment, and in an instant we are thrown back in time living and breathing the gritty reality of Scudder's city. It's not misty-eyed nostalgia, or even vintage. It's authentic, it's time travel.

This Scudder installment is also noteworthy because it's where we first encounter Mick Ballou, a.k.a The Butcher Boy. Ballou is a giant man with big hands and a bloodstained apron. Rumors abound about his violent prowess, and include toting around a head in a bowling ball bag and beating a man to death with a baseball bat. Despite Ballou's possible homicidal tendencies, he and Scudder hit it off and talk to each other in a way usually reserved only for the confessional or perhaps the man pouring your whiskey. Inexplicably, there is an instant kinship and unbeknownst to either man, Ballou is the key to solving the mystery of not only the missing girl, but Eddie's untimely death. This is a *great* character, and I can't wait to get more of him in the future.

Profile Image for Dave.
3,012 reviews331 followers
July 2, 2022
The seventh novel in Block’s Matthew Scudder series, “Out on the Cutting Edge,” first published in 1989, is, without question, up to the standard of excellence set in the first six novels in this series. Scudder, a former police officer, lost the itch to be a cop, lost the itch to be a married family man in suburbia, and ended up in a hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, drinking from bar to gin mill to liquor store, while solving cases as favors for friends or friends of friends. In this novel, Scudder’s personal story has moved forward to where he is deeply involved in AA. He still frequents the same gin mills, but has coffee or cola rather than booze now. He still chooses not to maintain a real job or a real relationship, preferring the temporariness of life in a hotel and taking cases as they come up, setting his fees based on a hunch about what it might be worth. He has no license as a PI and disdains the paperwork and regular reports.

This book takes Scudder on a search for a young woman who left her corn-fed Midwestern home to become an actress in the big city. She’s disappeared, leaving behind no note, no message, nothing. Her stuff is all gone and she missed the last week’s rent. Scudder doesn’t like the signs he’s getting, but with dogged determination he chases down the little clues that might yield results like when she closed her last telephone bill, who worked with her in plays, etc. Meanwhile, Scudder wonders about what happened to an acquaintance from AA who disappeared and ends up in a relationship with a woman from the acquaintance’s building, an ex-Marxist whose crazy past doesn’t bother Scudder, but who is not in the program. To top it off, Scudder sets up a meeting with Mickey Ballou, a giant of a man whose fame comes from being called the “Butcher Boy,” and has a reputation for carving men up and carrying their heads around in bowling bags for days afterwards.

In some ways, it might be considered a slower paced book, but that’s the nature of the Scudder series which features a slow, thoughtful detective who puts together the jigsaw puzzle pieces and hopes something along the way will click together and make sense. You are not going to go wrong picking up any of the Scudder books. They are all good.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,226 followers
January 23, 2018
Not topnotch in the Scudder series, Out on the Cutting Edge is still nonetheless a quality Block book.

While the three star rating (it would be closer to 3.5 and I rue GR's lack of half stars!) might seem low for a "quality" book that I would still recommend, I have my reasons. The biggest problem with this one is that our aging, alcoholic, ex-cop turned unlicensed private detective hero Matthew Scudder doesn't really solve the crime. I mean he puts the pieces together, but the pieces fall into his lap by chance.

HOWEVER! He does solve another crime that you might not have seen coming. There's a nice twist towards the end. But that's part of the problem. A lot happens at the very end and the lead up to it is long and drawn out due to a lack of action. Scudder books could hardly be called "action-packed" by the longest of stretches, but usually there's a little more balance. Even the tension, that harbinger of action, is mostly absent.

None of that hardly matters though. I can still find a good deal of enjoyment in these books even when the plot doesn't pack a punch and all we do is watch Scudder go on dates and to AA meetings. Block's descriptions of NYC from back in the day (this one is set in the late Summer of '86, if I have my baseball references correct) and his excellent characterizations are utterly enjoyable to lose oneself in. He makes you feel like one of Scudder's buddies (if Scudder had anyone you could call a "buddy"), just hanging out with him during his wanderings about the city, like taking a Sunday drive with someone real chill. But no one here is what you would call "cool". These people have seen some shit and have the scars to prove it. The good guys, the bad guys, and all the guys in between (actually most fall into the "in between" category) have been slapped about by life. In this series, Block paints life perfectly.
Profile Image for Brandon.
902 reviews233 followers
October 10, 2011
Man, am I going to be sad when I officially get caught up and I have no more Scudder books to read. Good thing I have about 11 more to go!

When you pick this book up, you're going to notice some major changes to the Scudder universe. At the end of Eight Million Ways to Die, Matt comes to terms with his alcoholism and attends - and participates - in an AA Meeting. At the beginning of this novel, Matt is 3 years sober and is heavily involved in the program. Also, we meet a new character (Mick Ballou) who is destined, so I hear, to become an integral part of the series.

I was very pleased with Out on the Cutting Edge overall. The integration of two mysteries made for a compelling read, as Scudder is rarely concentrating on one case for a lengthy period of time. I can say with confidence that I did not see that ending coming whatsoever. Block did it again - leading me in one direction and blindsiding me with where he intended to end up. Nothing satisfies me more that when I think I have it figured out only to be so wrong that I yell, "WHAT?!" out loud when it's revealed.

I can't recommend this series enough and I'm happy Block has written so many installments.
Profile Image for Mike.
299 reviews139 followers
August 31, 2022

I thought I might take a significant break from this series after the sixth book, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, but clearly I'm in this for the long haul (it didn't help that a friend I stayed with for a few weeks over the summer happened to have #s 7-13, most of them with these very cool Avon covers, lying around the apartment). But I'd assumed that Eight Million Ways to Die and Ginmill probably represented the high-water mark of the series, and there'd be a drop-off in quality afterwards. Well, not really. Sure, this installment in some ways feels back-to-basics, less ambitious than its two predecessors, but Lawrence Block also has a better handle on main character Matt Scudder and his world. The New York atmosphere has never been better, and Matt's relationships- whether a romance with a building superintendent, weekly meetings over Chinese food with AA sponsor Jim Faber, or a bromance with Mickey Ballou, a French-Irish butcher and career criminal who unofficially owns a hole-in-the-wall on the upper west side- are richer and more interesting.

Although I tend to vaguely imagine Matt inhabiting the New York of the 80s, I realized something this time: this seventh book was published in '89, Ginmill came out in '86, and 8MWTD was '82. Ginmill consisted mostly of Matt remembering something that had happened to him in the 70s; and 8MWTD, considering that Block was probably working on it for a couple of years before it came out, might be said to have emerged from the 70s. So the series that I'd been thinking of as quintessentially 80s in fact almost misses the 80s entirely...until this book, that is, where Reagan and homelessness and HIV and the Mets and the ubiquity of newfangled gadgets like answering machines and VHS all feature in the background of Matt's life.

Also firmly establishing us in the 80s, Block has a detective explain at amusing length the technique and goal of autoerotic asphyxiation, as if it's some strange alien ritual ("what it is, it's a new way to masturbate..."), whereas these days even your grandmother knows what it is.

The central mystery as usual feels for long stretches almost perfunctory, and Matt nearly seems to have forgotten all about it, until someone calls him up in the middle of the night and tells him in a menacing voice to...yes...forget all about it. From there, you know it's only a matter of time. Note to self: when embarking on my own life of crime, never call up the detective who's tailing me and tell him to forget all about the case. They love that sort of thing.

I like these old Avon Books covers infinitely better than the more recent ones, but the understandable emphasis on the thrilling and bloodletting aspects of the stories does somewhat belie their quieter elements. Block isn't David Foster Wallace, and would never devote large sections of a novel to microscopic exploration of an AA meeting; but Matt's regular attendance at meetings adds a new dimension to the series, and his attitude of ambivalence to the cliched AA slogans recalls the skepticism of some of the characters in Infinite Jest. The simplicity and truth of one brief anecdote about a guy who picked up a drink again after 22 years of sobriety has stayed with me; of course it happened on vacation.
Profile Image for Richard.
984 reviews359 followers
January 12, 2016
It's been a little over three years since the events in the stellar Eight Million Ways To Die, and Matt has successfully been able to stay sober and regularly participate in AA meetings. A man hires him to track down his missing actress daughter and we're off to the races with my next Matthew Scudder read!

The actual mystery storyline of the missing actress is one of the least interesting of all the Scudder books so far, but witnessing Matthew's struggle to maintain sobriety in Manhattan and his experiences in AA is what makes the book really enjoyable. The mystery is second priority. And as usual with the series, the supporting characters in this one are great, from the repentant Eddie (Matt's AA friend) to the enigmatic and dangerous Mick Ballou. A popular staple in hard-boiled detective fiction is for the protagonist to be a hardcore drinker, like it makes them harder or grittier or something. The Scudder series stands out to me because it really shows the negative effects of such drinking in a tender, honest, and heartfelt way. But author Lawrence Block never allows Matt to have a sentimental, self-pitying attitude about the whole thing. He just takes it one day at a time.
"I wanted a drink. There were a hundred reasons why a man will want a drink, but I wanted one now for the most elementary reason of all. I didn't want to feel what I was feeling, and a voice within was telling me that I needed a drink, that I couldn't bear it without it.

But that voice is a liar. You can always bear the pain. It'll hurt, it'll burn like acid in an open wound, but you can stand it. And, as long as you can make yourself go on choosing the pain over the relief, you can keep going."
Profile Image for David.
45 reviews4 followers
May 6, 2023
Slow paced but enjoyable read with recovering alcoholic, Private Detective Matt Scudder. The impact of an unhealthy addiction to alcohol is felt throughout the book. The story also touches on the ever increasing issue of poverty on the streets of New York. Sharp dialogue.
Profile Image for Frank.
1,904 reviews21 followers
April 28, 2023
Another good one in the Matt Scudder series. I have been reading these in no particular order for the past decade or so and always enjoy them. This is the seventh book in the series and Matt is struggling to stay sober by attending AA meetings religiously.
Scudder is an ex New York cop who quit the force after he accidentally killed a young girl during a shootout. He works as an unlicensed PI and has struggled to stay sober. In this novel, he agrees to look into the disappearance of a young woman from Indiana who came to New York to pursue an acting career. But her parents are concerned when she doesn’t return her calls and seems to have vanished. Matt does what he can to try to track her down but is not too optimistic about the outcome.

Meanwhile, he befriends a fellow AA member who is trying to stay sober. Then the friend shows up dead in his apartment with a rope around his neck. It looks like accidental auto erotic asphyxiation in that he was found naked and close to some S&M magazines. Or was he really murdered? Matt gets close to the man’s landlady (real close) as he tries to get to the bottom of his death. Along the way he also befriends a mobster and bar owner named Mick Ballou who also becomes a supporting character in future novels in the series.

This was kind of an in between novel in the series. It’s written at a slow pace as Matt attends AA meetings, has an affair with the lady landlord, and puzzles out the solutions to the death of his friend and the disappearance of the young woman from Indiana. Block really draws the reader into Matt’s world within the down and outs of NYC. I still have a few of the series left to read and hopefully I’ll get to them soon.
Profile Image for William.
675 reviews324 followers
November 20, 2017
Slow, easy start, great dialogue and a Terrific second half, 4.5-stars!

Two small mysteries that grow and grow, great pacing, rhythm and dialogue, good complexity, some terrific characters, especially Mickey Ballou. This book is almost up to the extraordinary quality of "8 Million Ways to Die". Wonderful stuff!

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

I'm reminded of the UK tv show, Inspector Morse, one of my all-time favourites. Each story was always about two things: (1) The solution of the murder, and (2) the collateral damage to people and families that the police cause in their investigations. This always produces a story with a tragedy at its core, a sadness.

I get that quiet sadness in parts of Block's Scudder stories, but it's strongly present in this one, from beginning to end. It's also central to stories from other fine crime-noir authors.

39% ....
“So you smoked for the good of the revolution.”
“Bet your ass. Camels, a couple of packs a day. Or Picayunes, but they were hard to find.”
“I never heard of them.”
“Oh, they were wonderful,” she said. “They made Gauloises taste like nothing at all. They would rip your throat out and turn your toe-nails brown. You didn’t even have to light them. You could get cancer just carrying a pack in your purse.”

40% ... I think I see part of the solution to the Eddie death. The clues are in the story pretty clearly, but I'm still not at all clear on the missing Paula mystery.

83% ...
I wanted a drink. There are a hundred reasons why a man will want a drink, but I wanted one now for the most elementary reason of all. I didn’t want to feel what I was feeling, and a voice within was telling me that I needed the drink, that I couldn’t bear it without it.

But that voice is a liar. You can always bear the pain. It’ll hurt, it’ll burn like acid in an open wound, but you can stand it. And, as long as you can make yourself go on choosing the pain over the relief, you can keep going.

My early solution to the Eddie death was 2/3 correct, but there is a surprise ending for that one.

I enjoyed this very much, great pacing and dialogue, almost up to the quality of "8 Million Ways to Die".

Sadly, after this, the whole series falls apart. Block has famously never talked of his possible AA membership, but I would strongly suggest that every book he wrote after Matt (Block) goes sober is a "virtual AA meeting" for Block. They start out fine, you fall asleep in the too-dull middle, and then wake up for a rousing coffee/shootup at the end. Yes?

“The Players are gentlemen,” he’d intoned, “pretending to be actors. The Lambs are actors, pretending to be gentlemen. And the Friars—the Friars are neither, pretending to be both.”

“The earth has AIDS. We’re all whirling mer-rily through the void on a dying planet, and gay people are just doing their usual number, being shamelessly trendy as always. Right out in front on the cutting edge of death.”

21.0% .... Aww... very sweet. Matt's become a "soft boiled" detective.

37.0% .... kind of drifting along, great dialogue, slice of life.

55.0% .... some very good humour throughout this book, more than previous books

... I went into the bathroom and caught sight of my reflection in the mirror over the sink. All my years looked back at me, and I could feel their weight, pressing down on my shoulders. I ran the shower hot and stood under it for a long time

73.0% .... a surprisingly warm and tender scene with Willa. I am a hero to a few in my life, and I feel it in Matt and Block, Patrick and Angie, Spenser, and most assuredly, Harry Bosch.

79.0% ... most Scudder books start a bit slow, sometimes for half the book or more. Perhaps it's intentional to show how empty Matt's daily life is?
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,051 reviews577 followers
May 1, 2022
In my selective re-visiting of the Matt Scudder series I’ve skipped, for now, When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes and dipped back in at book 7. Matt is continuing the struggle to remain alcohol free, but he’s actually been dry for quite some time now. Otherwise his life seems pretty much as I left him in book 5. In this episode the job he takes on (he doesn’t have cases, he says, as an unlicensed investigator) he is hired by distraught parents to track down their missing daughter. And in what feels like a rather odd opening to this book we’re pretty much told where this task will lead him. But along the way the way he also has to deal with a matter involving a fellow AA meeting attendee who’d recently befriended him.

It all ticks over quite slowly, the most notable happening being Scudder’s first meeting with Mick Ballou, an Irish mafia member and owner of a saloon called Grogan’s Open House, who in later books is to become a significant figure in Matt’s life. It’s all very well written, as you’d expect, but really it’s the sections focussed on Scudder’s thoughts and actions and particularly his struggles with addiction that I found most interesting here. There are, though, some elements I found less satisfying, especially the way in which Matt communicates the outcome of his search for the girl to her father – I understood the sentiment but it just didn’t hold water for me.

The other thing I’m with struggling with is the fact that I just don’t recall the plots of these stories I read, probably fifteen years or so ago. Is it a sign of my increasing inability to hold information or have I just read too many mysteries over the years, to the point I can no longer discern one plot from another? I rather hope it’s the latter.
Profile Image for Mohammed  Burhan Abdi Osman.
419 reviews2 followers
July 31, 2011
This series has become the benchmark for me of what a great PI book series is. I compare it to every detective book stories i have read before and everything i will read from now on. It is the best PI book series i have read of any era. I hold Hammett the best writer of this kind but his series was short stories with The Continental Op. Block series has surpassed the others with similar books.

The only real flaw in the novel was that Scudder was more lucky than he did good work in the case he worked. In another PI book it would have ruined the story, what i feel for the characters if the actual PI work was not good enough. In these books its not really too important even if the PI cases are usually realistic, great. Block writing, themes in other areas of the novel, Scudder himself is really the why i read the series. I don't read this series for simple entertaining PI story,plot.
Profile Image for Benoit Lelièvre.
Author 8 books137 followers
November 15, 2017

Perhaps my favorite Scudder since A STAB IN THE DARK and maybe even my favorite. What differentiates this one from the other books in the series is that Scudder doesn't really have a case here. He's investigating the cold trail of a disappearing girl, but mostly OUT ON THE CUTTING EDGE is the story of him struggling with his newfound sobriety and seeking solace in all the wrong place and, most important, all the wrong people.

Read it, it's heartbreaking, fantastic and extremely rewarding if you're already into the Scud.
Profile Image for Cathy DuPont.
456 reviews167 followers
December 29, 2013
AA is no longer such a secretive organization thanks to Matt Scudder and his life now as a member of the somewhat secretive group. Secretive only because of the nature of why they meet, they're all alcoholics. This amounts to nothing for me except furthering my knowledge of the world around me.

Interesting storyline and Matt is at his best but the primary reason I gave it four stars is the ending. It is as surprising as an out of the blue firm slap on the face. OMG, really, Matt? You figured it out? As usual, I was clueless right up to the end.

After all the mysteries I've read, a person would think I would be getting better at solving the puzzle of the mystery but not with Lawrence Block's Scudder series. Surprises at every turn of the page especially in the last few chapters.

I'm so glad that a GR friend (can't recall who, Tfitoboy, I think or Mohammed) turned me on to this series because Block has given me more than a few hours of pure pulpy entertainment. Lucky me! And there's more to come, thankfully.

Haven't read Scudder yet? If not and you enjoy hard-boiled, grab the first in the series if you can, Sins of the Fathers because if you're like me, everything has a beginning.
Profile Image for Mizuki.
2,971 reviews1,176 followers
November 20, 2021
This is a decent detective novel, the story about the search for a missing young woman isn't very dramatic but I enjoy going along with the main character on his quest to solve the disappearance of the missing woman, then a man he knows was also killed......so what is going on? Is the local gang involved? In the end, the above questions are answered and we got to the end of the quest knowing a little more about our main character, etc.
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,304 reviews298 followers
June 6, 2021
В "На острието на бръснача" Мат Скъдър е нает да издири млада жена, изчезнала безследно преди няколко месеца. Макар да знае, че ситуацията е безнадеждна, той се вкопчва в този случай като псе в единствен кокал.

Междувременно, дребен престъпник, сега член на АА има силна нужда да се изповяда, но внезапно умира, преди да е разкрил какво го мъчи. Това води Мат към друга страшна история.

В този роман се появява и страховитата фигура на Мик Балу, с когото ще станат големи приятели.

Моята оценка - 4,5*.
Profile Image for Toby.
831 reviews328 followers
November 13, 2013
We're all whirling merrily through the void on a dying planet, and gay people are just doing their usual number, being shamelessly trendy as always. Right out in front on the cutting edge of death.

After a flashback to the 70s in the previous Matt Scudder book we're back to his present with the seventh instalment; Matt's in AA now, been clean for over three years, and he's passing out wallet sized photos of a missing girl, an actress from Muncie, Indiana who fled small town life to make it as an actor in New York.

This isn't one of those hackneyed books about how the big city swallows naive young hopefuls whole, the kind of story much lesser writers would have written with such a premise, this is Lawrence Block and he's got something much more interesting to talk about. Even if that's just watching his unofficial private investigator fighting his considerable inner demons and trying to stay off the booze.

I admit to having a fear for the series when I saw that the intention was to have Scudder quit his copious drinking, who wants to read about a tee-total holier than thou gumshoe afterall? But I had nothing to worry about, essentially Block is writing the exact same thing only with a more complex psychological study; instead of Scudder getting annihilated whilst working he's attending meetings and thinking about ways to not drink and even putting himself in harms way by hanging out in ginmills "to solve the case." If it's at all possible Matt Scudder is now a much more interesting character, with even more for the reader to invest in. Very intelligent writing from The Master.

Alcoholism aside this is another entertaining mystery, the main case of the missing young girl is going nowhere and at the same time an acquaintance of Matt's dies, Matt dovetails the investigations of both and by more luck than skill comes out on top, as you would expect, it's his name on the series afterall. As Martin Beck will tell you, detective work is about doing all the basic things right to close the net of the investigation so that when you catch a break it just seems like luck.

Along the way he meets intriguing new people, some who harm and some who help and some who are just there because they're interesting background characters. There's more of Block's trademark casual observances of New York life that give his novels real depth and in the same manner (yet with much more subtlety) a strong criticism of the status quo in his city, this time it's the housing problems that face all cities and the working classes who suffer the most in the face of gentrification, that come under his gaze.
Profile Image for Kathy.
3,344 reviews177 followers
June 2, 2017
This is one heck of a book. Scudder is now sober for more than three years and active in AA. A fellow member, feeling anxious about something he had done. discusses the possibility of using Scudder as his sponsor to verbally acknowledge these acts confidentially. He is soon found dead, discovered by Scudder who was concerned when he was missing from meetings. This develops into a very tricky situation I won't spoil.
The main assignment for our man Scudder is to discover how a young woman from Indiana disappeared from New York City where she worked odd jobs while studying acting.
To avoid guilt or other possible conflicts, find the free time to read straight through as this book cannot be put down.
Profile Image for AZ Book Guy.
133 reviews12 followers
March 18, 2022
Listened on Audible and despite the slow reading (even at 1.4 but not much action) I enjoyed the plot which unfolded beyond my expectations as the story went on.

The Bernie Rhodenbarr series was fun 📚 so thought I’d give Mathew Scudder a shot since this is the author’s best known series. The AA content was a little too frequent, one of the storylines ended in disgust and another in disbelief, but in the end it’s a dated yet intriguing character and series.

Wouldn’t mind reading more, but not now. For now I’ll focus on a few authors and a few series I’m excited about instead of trying too hard to like one more.
Profile Image for Aditya.
270 reviews79 followers
June 8, 2020
After two books that were mainly about Scudder's relationship with booze, Out on the Cutting Edge shifts the focus back on the mystery. A small town girl seeking big city thrills disappears in NYC and one of Scudder's Alcoholic Anonymous acquaintance suffers an unfortunate accident just before he was going to make a major confession to Scudder. The first one ends with a coincidence that I had trouble buying into but the second one delivers in spades with a resolution that I didn't see coming.

I feel Block's plots are actually a bit underrated with the mysteries consistently hitting that sweet spot between straightforward and satisfying. It keeps highlighting the intelligence and perseverance of Scudder without making him seem like a genius or making leaps of logic that are impossible outside of stories. His way of solving the crime makes him pretty unique, there are no procedural elements. He goes and talks to as many people as possible, even if they are tangentially related to the mystery at best about everything under the sun fully knowing most of it is redundant and then sifting through all that information to find the missing link. The smartest part is how Block makes such a meandering process (though it creates minor pacing issues) keep providing results in a very logical fashion.

Block brilliantly invokes a weariness with his writing that unlike most crime books doesn't feel born out of cynicism, instead he makes it seem like the inevitable price the working class man pays for living in his grim NYC. The dialogue lacks theatricality but never impact making it excellent. Scudder never completely moral or ethical is still always likeable as he retains a pragmatic sense of justice that feels like the optimum solution under the circumstances. Two new characters are introduced - a love interest Willa whose boozing presents a challenge for Scudder yet there is a feeling she might be the one and an Irish gangster with whom Scudder bonds over anecdotes. The Irish gangster - Mickey Ballou is introduced in a way reminiscent of Durkin in Eight Million Ways to Die and it was done better in that book.

Ultimately the Scudder books are like drinking good beer, not the absolute best that booze lovers or crime fiction fans can get their mitts on but one they must try lest they miss out on one of the most iconic pleasures they could enjoy. Rating - 4/5.
Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,920 reviews354 followers
January 12, 2015
Two for the price of one, although the investigation into Eddie’s death has more coincidence and serendipity than one would like. Then again, serendipity had much to do with the rationale for Paula’s death.

Matt’s looking for Paula. Referred to by a local cop, Matt is “hired” by her father to find her. She has disappeared with no trace. She’s 24 and Matt put her picture on the back of his business card. That often leads to wiseacres calling and asking for money in return for information when all they really have is a knife waiting for Matt’s ribs. But it also serendipitously leads to the solution. Simultaneously, Matt becomes concerned about a fellow AA member who had befriended him and had said he had something on his mind he needed to unload since expiation was considered important as one of the steps in the Twelve-step program. (We learn a lot about AA -- probably a little more than necessary, but it was a bit interesting and certainly part of Block’s style for the Scudder books.) Eddie didn’t show for their rendezvous and is now missing.

The book was originally published in the eighties, a time of transition for the area of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen. It had been known as a very undesirable place, but that was changing. The change becomes part of the solution to Eddie’s death.

Compelling reading in Block’s inimitable style.
Profile Image for Fred Nanson.
104 reviews16 followers
February 11, 2021
Scudder investigates, meets interesting new people and delivers hard but honest truths about human nature.

Slow but very good. Certainly one of the best in the series so far.
Profile Image for Moira.
512 reviews25 followers
August 8, 2009
I bought this book because I couldn't find Eight Million Ways to Die at the local half price chain, and I wanted that book because this is one of the few series I've heard of in which the cop/detective is a recovering alcoholic. (I loved Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order for many, many years because of the background they gave him.) I started idly flipping through it, got hooked pretty quickly and finished it in a couple of hours -- it went down neat (heh) and Block is a good Plain Stylist with tight reasonable plots. People who write about these books often say how the city is another character, and while that's a bit of a cliche -- you hear it a lot about L.A. and Chandler -- it happens to be true. There's an A and B plot, just like in a Law & Order episode, and while they're not really connected (except through the narrator Scudder himself) they both depend on Manhattan settings: the brutal crime world of Hell's Kitchen and the sometimes equally brutal world of gentrifying real estate. Block doesn't just get the city right, he gets the people in the city right too: the petty criminals, the rooming house landladies, the would-be actresses, hustlers and bartenders and homeless, the people dug in or grimly hanging on or drifting away. I was intrigued enough to pick up the next paperback and will probably read to the end of the series (especially if I can find Eight Million -- the books before it don't sound that interesting to me).

Two things really stuck out: several times, in big ways, Scudder does something the narrative just gives you no clue about, and they're important things. There's a little bit of white space or a chapter break, but no indication at all something Big is going down in between the bits of story we're not seeing -- not even the old-fashioned dodge "I explained briefly what I had in mind and he agreed." I always hate this in mystery novels. I consider it cheating. When it's a first-person narrator, it's worse than cheating. It's just sloppy trickery. If the author drops a sly hint or two that you can pick up on going back over it later wondering "where the hell did that come from," it's almost enough to make me forgive him, but not quite. This went way beyond the pale. (Yes yes, I know about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and I hated it there too.)

But. Scudder also meets up with a flamboyant, brutal wonderfully described 'Westie' named Mickey Ballou, called The Butcher Boy, and the pages just catch light when he appears. (The relationship between him and Scudder is reminiscent of Easy Rawlins and Mouse, in Walter Mosley's own mystery series.) I could rave about him for paragraphs except most of what I would have to say would be total spoilers for the book, and I wouldn't want to do that to potential readers. I'd read through ten crap bland detective novels to find one character like this -- he's just amazing. Apparently he and Scudder become friends and he makes at least cameo appearances in some of the later novels, which is neat. I always love character and theme more than plot, and I'll forgive anyone who can come up with Mickey Ballou a lot of sins.

Apparently there's some question whether or not Block himself might be an alcoholic, given the depth and detail of not just Scudder's external AA meetings but the internal struggles he goes through. Not that it's any of my (or anyone else's) goddamned business, but if I had to say, I'd guess Yes -- there are just too many little bits that are totally right that someone who hadn't gone through it wouldn't know about. The way the "preamble" is read in a meeting Scudder goes to (outsiders don't know to call it that), how you're discouraged from donating any amount of money larger than a dollar (as I found to my surprise in early sobriety when I tried to put a five in the basket), the little catchphrases they tell you like "Nobody ever died from lack of sleep" -- sure, a good writer could pick that and more up hanging around AA meetings for a while, and Block is a good writer. But people don't usually hang around AA meetings unless they have a reason to (one of the very, very rare times I saw non-alcoholics at meetings, they were doing observational fieldwork and always announced themselves beforehand). It doesn't really matter -- you don't need to be a drunk to write about one, for God's sake. Block gets it right. The degree -- an almost intimate one -- to which he gets it right makes me think the accuracy depends on first-hand experience rather than second-hand observation, but even if it's the latter rather than the former: he gets it right.
1,818 reviews64 followers
October 29, 2021
Routine Matt Scudder tale with two exceptions. One is the brutal way he treats one of his characters and the other is the introduction of Mickey Ballou. Scudder is hired by a father from Muncie, Indiana to find his missing daughter. The final twist is good, although actually very unlikely. Recommended to Scudder fans.
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