Wednesday, January 09, 2019

A Time to Scatter Stones - Lawrence Block

As I've mentioned here before, I bought the paperback of THE SINS OF THE FATHERS, the first Matt Scudder novel by Lawrence Block, brand-new off the paperback rack at Buddies' Supermarket in 1976, not long after Livia and I got married. She was already getting groceries, but I'd stopped to look at the books and spotted Block's name. In the past, I had bought some of his Evan Tanner books right up the sidewalk in the same shopping center, from the spinner rack in Tompkins' Pharmacy, and enjoyed them. This one looked good, it was the first book in a series, and it was a private eye novel. Good enough for me.

Cut to 2019, more than forty years later, and what am I reading? A TIME TO SCATTER STONES, the newest Matt Scudder novella by Lawrence Block. The more things change, etc., etc., and sometimes I'm glad of that.

Block has aged Scudder in real time, so he's long since retired as an unofficial private detective and is living happily with his wife Elaine, a former prostitute who he met during one of his cases. She belongs to a group that calls themselves the Tarts, an informal organization of former prostitutes and ones who are trying to get out of that life. One of them has a problem with a client who's obsessed with her, and Elaine prevails on Scudder to help the young woman. He's willing to do so, but first he has to find out who the guy actually is, and once he does, decide how best to proceed from there.

It's really interesting and enjoyable to watch Scudder work this case. As he points out himself, he's really too old for that sort of thing and isn't as efficient at it as he once was, but he manages to get the job done anyway. A TIME TO SCATTER STONES is, fittingly enough, a rather low-key and leisurely affair, but despite that, Block manages to generate a considerable amount of suspense and really kept me reading. No one else's prose pulls me along quite so handily, and you can't really point to anything and say, it's because he does this and this and that other thing. I don't know why it works, but it sure does.

Block has said this may well be the final Matt Scudder story. Well, maybe, maybe not. We've heard that before. What I do know is that as long as he keeps writing them, I'll keep reading them. A TIME TO SCATTER STONES will be out in hardback and e-book editions at the end of the month, and I highly recommend it.


Keith West said...

This one is definitely on my radar. I think Block will quit writing when they pry his keyboard/typewriter/paleolithic paints from his cold dead hands.

Neil Waring said...

Block has always been one of my go-to reads - because I enjoy light-hearted mysteries, his Bernie Rhodenbarr character is one of my all time favorites.