Monday, September 3, 2012
The Fourteenth Matthew Scudder
This is due entirely to the richly-drawn character that Block has created in Scudder who has continued to grow and evolve through seventeen novels and a number of short stories, published over a period of thirty-five years. It's hard to imagine a fan of crime fiction who has not yet encountered these books, but for those who might not know, Scudder is a former New York cop and recovering alcoholic who has spent most of his career as an unlicensed P.I. doing favors for "friends" who then pay him what they think the job is worth.
For most of this time, Matt lived alone in a tiny hotel room in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York, and the city has become a major character in the books. Now well into middle age, Matt has recently married Elaine Mardell, his longtime girlfriend, and moved into an apartment across the street from his old hotel room. He's also finally gotten a license as a private investigator, which enables him to work for attorneys and others from whom he can command a better rate of pay. The neighborhood is gentrifying which is both good and bad as Matt (along with the reader) mourns the passing of landmark institutions that had long populated his neighborhood.
In short, life is good, but then Matt's long-time best friend, the gangster and saloon owner Mick Ballou, comes under attack from a mysterious unidentified enemy. He appeals to Matt for help and almost immediately, Matt becomes a target as well.
As always, the real pleasure in this book is watching the interaction among the characters and listening in as Matt ruminates about the developments in the case and the changing world around him. This is one of the more violent books in the series, and the blood starts flowing early on. From almost the first page the bodies are dropping left and right, and the only question that matters is who will survive in a dangerous world where everybody dies.