Monday, September 19, 2011

A Drop of the Hard Stuff - Lawrence Block

I like to read series books in order if possible (just another manifestation of my mild OCD, I suspect), and I'm a number of books behind on Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series, but hey, the new one, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, is mostly a flashback to a time a year or so after Matt stopped drinking, so I thought, why not?

It was a good decision.
And this is a very good book. Although I have a hunch Block didn't intend it this way, there's a little bit of a Mickey Spillane feeling to the set-up. A guy Matt knew briefly as a kid comes back into his life and winds up dead. Now from there, of course, things develop completely differently than they would have in a Spillane novel because Matt Scudder isn't Mike Hammer and Block isn't Spillane. The murder victim is a small-time criminal and fellow alcoholic, and as it turns out, working his way through the Twelve Steps may well be what put him in the path of a killer. As an unlicensed PI, Matt is hired to find out what happened, and in the best PI novel tradition, he keeps digging for the truth even when it appears that the case is over.

While the mystery part of the plot is put together quite well, the real appeal of this book is Block's vivid portrayal of New York in the Eighties, along with the sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, always colorful characters who move in Matt's circle of alcoholics trying to stay sober, world-weary cops, and lowlife criminals. And Matt himself is a great character, of course. The reader always roots for him, but at this point in his life, you can never really be sure what he's going to do.

As the title suggests, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF is pretty hardboiled, and it stays that way to the end.  It's very well written, too. Ed Gorman has said that Block writes the best sentences in the business, and it's hard to argue with that. From time to time I found myself rereading paragraphs and asking myself, "How does he do that?" I dunno. Just good, I guess. And so is A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF. Highly recommended.


Walker Martin said...

I like the Matt Scudder books also. I'll have to get this latest one to read.

Cullen Gallagher said...

Good call on the Spillane-esque structure. I really enjoyed this book, as well. I haven't read most of the series, so I still have a lot to catch up on!

Keith said...

I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but I've read all the others. I've had the same experience you did, James, of rereading paragraphs in order to try to understand how Block writes the way he does.