Lawrence Block has written a head-spinning number of books and several series, but undeniably his best creation is private investigator Matthew Scudder, an alcoholic former cop who "does favors" for people for money to survive New York City's meaner streets.
His last Scudder novel came out in 2005, so it was a pleasure to sit back with the new one, A Drop of the Hard Stuff. Great title, right? Block's titles are always terrific. My favorite (and favorite Scudder novel for that matter) is When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes.
Scudder started out the series as a drinker but reformed over time. In A Drop of the Hard Stuff he's still bouncing from AA meeting to AA meeting, working his sobriety with a vengeance.
And speaking of vengeance, his latest "favor" is looking into the death of 'High Low" Jack Ellery, a childhood friend who took the more criminal road into adulthood. Jack is also a recovering alcoholic who is working on making amends to everyone he has wronged (a long list - Jack has not lived a particularly compassionate life). But someone is apparently not happy to everything Jack is confessing; he's murdered, and Scudder is determined to find out who killed him and why.
In addition to the main mystery - which is pretty intriguing as it is - Block also makes Drop something of an elegy for the old New York, before Times Square cleaned itself up and every mom and pop shop surrendered to incoming yuppies and hedge fund managers. There's always a touch of nostalgia and melancholy to the Scudder books, maybe because he's well aware his alcoholism is a lifelong sentence, that every day he'll face demons anew. A drop of the hard stuff is never all that far away.