I remember very well the supermarket where Livia and I bought most of our groceries when we were first married. It was still called Buddies then, although it changed later to Winn-Dixie. And as grocery stores did back then, it had a good-sized paperback rack. That was where I bought a paperback original private eye novel called THE SINS OF THE FATHER. The author was Lawrence Block.
Now, I knew that name, of course, because I'd been seeing it on Gold Medal paperbacks for a number of years, mostly notably the Evan Tanner novels. Since I loved private eye novels and knew the author could be depended upon to produce good books, I didn't hesitate in picking up THE SINS OF THE FATHER. That was my introduction to unlicensed, alcoholic PI Matt Scudder.
Since then I've gone on to read quite a few (but not all) of the Scudder novels, most recently A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, and a few of the short stories featuring the character. Now Block has collected all the Scudder novelettes and short stories into a new volume called THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, which he's published himself as an e-book and a trade paperback. They seem to be in the order in which he wrote them, which makes for a very interesting look at the evolution of the character. Some of the short stories are flashbacks to the time in Matt's life before his debut in THE SINS OF THE FATHER. And all of them, as you'd expect, are very well-written. My favorite, I think, is the title story, "The Night and the Music", which has no crime element at all, but instead finds Matt and his wife Elaine talking and listening to music in various places around their part of New York. That may not sound like much, but this story is so elegant and evocative that it reminds me very much of some of Irwin Shaw's stories. (Shaw being one of my favorite non-genre writers.)
Also in that vein is the final story in the book, the recently written and fittingly titled "One Last Night at Grogan's", again not a mystery or a crime story. I don't know if Block plans to write any more about Matt Scudder, and he may not know, either, but "One Last Night at Grogan's" has a beautifully elegiac feel to it, and if it does turn out to be the series' farewell, it's a good one.
If it seems like I've read quite a bit by Block this year, that's because I have. And I'm sure my Block Binge will continue, since I already have several of his early novels on my Kindle, ready to read, plus I want to catch up on those Scudders I've missed. (I've also read a lot by Robert Silverberg this year, but I can't think of a catchy phrase to describe that.) THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC holds a lot of nostalgic appeal for me, as I alluded to at the beginning of this post, but there's a lot more to it than that. These are fine stories, written by one of the best in the business, and this volume gets a high recommendation from me.