Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Night and the Music - Lawrence Block




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.

8 comments:

Matthew P. Mayo said...

This sounds excellent. I've not read any of Block's Scudder stories, so this collection will serve as an introduction to the character for me. I'll let you know how we get on!

And as an aside, the cover design is great.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Everyone seems to be on a Block binge this year. HCC seems to have seen to that--in a good way. After Lew Archer and Travis McGee, Scudder is one of my favorites. THE SACRED GINMILL being the best IMHO,

Lawrence Block said...

James, all I'll say about the review is how grateful I am for it. I couldn't be happier than to be compared to Irwin Shaw, whose short fiction was just brilliant, or to be mentioned alongside Robert Silverberg, a cherished friend and colleague; Silverbob has a new/old book coming soon from Hard Case, Blood on the Mink, a bit of 60s erotica by "Don Elliott" reborn as a period noir crime story. That's one I'll be eager to read myself.

Keith said...

I've read all of the Scudder books except the latest (haven't gotten to it yet but will soon). They just get better as the series goes on. Thanks for the heads-up on the new collection.

James Reasoner said...

I'm really looking forward to Silverberg's BLOOD ON THE MINK.

wayne d. dundee said...

I also have followed followed Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder from the beginning. The novels have always occupied a special place on my bookshelf. The first fan letter I ever wrote to an author was to Mr. Block and he was kind enough to respond at considerable length. A very talented and very gracious gentleman.

David Cranmer said...

It is a wonderful collection of short fiction. I just finished it and will post a review on Amazon soon.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I picked up my first Lawrence Block novel, BURGLARS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS, only last week. I'm half way through it and already I can't wait to lay my hands on the other Ernie Rhodenbarr novels. Happily, I've a long way to go with Block. A true master of crime fiction!