Monday, January 30, 2012

The Night And the Music

by Lawrence Block

Eleven Matt Scudder stories, previously uncollected until now.  This book has the distinction of being the only e-book not in the public domain that I have ever purchased, despite having owned a Nook for years.  Now, keep in mind that everything Scudder-related is at least in some way interesting to me (at this point in my association with Scudder and his extended circle, it’s like going through a photo album with a cool elderly uncle as he reminisces, including the same familiar turns of phrase that have been used before).  While a couple of these stories are throwaways, most attain that perfect air of world-weary castaway-turned-bemused-husband that marks the later novels.

“Out the Window.”  The longest story and the closest thing to a typical mystery story: a locked door suicide that Matt suspects is murder.  Excellent.

“A Candle For the Bag Lady.”  A bag lady is killed brutally and leaves money to Scudder, who is naturally driven to find out why, and who did it.  A tour of the seedy side of Scudder’s world, and very touching.

“By the Dawn’s Early Light.”  Matt is hired to find information that will help a man accused of killing his wife, only to find he’s a pawn in someone’s game.  Scudder’s brand of rough justice ensues.  Quite clever plotting.

“Batman’s Helpers.”  A look at what makes Scudder tick, morally.  This story is deeper than it appear to be, with a rather incisive dialogue on what makes right.

“The Merciful Angel Of Death.”  Matt is asked to find out what connection a woman has to dying AIDS patients.  This one is a bit hard to swallow, and doesn’t showcase Matt’s strengths.  Probably the weakest in the collection.

“The Night And the Music.”  Scudder being domestic.  Sweet, but frothy.

“Looking For David.”  Vacationing in Italy, Matt bumps into a murderer who finally tells him why he killed his lover.  Spooky and clever, though I guessed it before Matt, who seems rather dull in this story.

“Let’s Get Lost.”  In his early days on the force, Matt does a favor for call girl Elaine by investigating the suspicious death of a card player.  Block leads the readers back and forth with this one; it’s also soaked in Scudder’s bittersweet nostalgia.  Possibly the best of the bunch.

“A Moment Of Wrong Thinking.”  A flashback to Matt’s early days working with Detective Mafferty, who taught Matt to suspect everyone and take money when it’s offered.  A simple suicide case turns out to be… possibly more.

“Mick Ballou Looks At the Blank Screen.”  An unnecessary throwaway.

“One Last At Grogan’s.”  Not exactly a thrilling tale, but damn touching (Grogan’s is closing, Mick having settled down to domesticity and old age), and it’s always fun when original Hard Man, Mick Ballou, is on the page.

four stars

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