Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Drop Of the Hard Stuff

by Lawrence Block

Late one night, Scudder tells his old friend Mick Ballou a story.  About a year after he’d joined AA and was taking up with Jan, Scudder runs into Jack, a childhood pal who has become a minor crook, but who is now reformed and trying to make amends, AA-style.  Someone doesn’t like the way Jack is bringing up the past, and he is killed.  Jack’s sponsor hires Matt to look into who might want Jack silenced and why, and he falls uneasily into the late-night world of drinkers, druggies, and seedy contacts, as the threat gets closer to him personally.

This is an outstanding thriller, absolutely pitch-perfect.  The book is utterly steeped in noir mood; rough, witty dialogue crackles throughout, as in a fast-paced Sam Spade film.  But since this a Scudder tale, alcohol is a cast member, an ever-present character; Scudder is reminded of the smells of bourbon, of his old hangouts, with every step he takes in his investigation.  Scudder is here, as in some of the earlier books, somewhat of a fatalistic witness to his life rather than a prime mover.  With five people dead, the resolution he hits upon is hardly satisfactory, but, well, it’s simply the best he can do at that point in his life.  The final coda, where Mick and Matt discuss absent friends and their current loves, is beautiful, nearly worth the price of the book alone.

five stars

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