A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block

Murder mystery in New York. Slow burn that fizzles out.

This is a Matthew Scudder mystery, one of a series. Lawrence Block is a veteran writer, with over 60 published titles since 1958. Demands respect.

This book takes us back to the time when Matt is a recovering alcoholic; he’s an ex-cop and now a freelance private investigator. The story is about a childhood friend (Jack Ellery) who he met at one meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Next thing he heard, Jack was dead, and not from natural causes.

Matt discovers that Jack had written a list of people he had wronged whilst an alcoholic and Jack’s attempts to make amends. Maybe someone on the list killed Jack, and Matt tries to piece together the events surrounding the death, and bring the killer to justice.

As a storyline, standard murder mystery, a love interest, and a few faceless characters written by a maestro of crime, but much as I admired the writing and technical excellence, it bored the life out of me.

The introduction was a forty page exposition relating to Jack Ellery’s life, which played a minimal part in the story. I had to force myself to read on. The main meat of the story had patches of brilliance, but overloaded with constant AA meetings. Okay, I learnt a lot about the twelve stages of redemption in a NY setting, scenes which repeated themselves endlessly. Matt, living in a hotel room, goes to a meeting, meets someone, goes back to the hotel, finds messages, makes calls, goes to another meeting etc, etc.

The end game (if you are a LB fan) is imaginative and, in another past era, would be par for the course. Today’s crime fiction is more slam, bang, thank you ma’am (whether that’s a good thing or bad, depends on what you prefer). Suffice to say, this ending fades into the sunset.

But, in some ways, this is more about the writer than the book. I found his style as good as it gets in first person narrative, which means I want to (and will) read more.

Buy Lawrence Block *****, but not this book**; at least, not if it is your first venture into LB’s world.

 

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