Matt Scudder used to be a policeman until a tragic accident drove him out of the police force and in the direction of the nearest bottle. Now he survives as an unofficial private eye, doing “favours” for friends.
Wendy Hanniford was murdered by the boy she shared her apartment with. It’s an open and shut case, especially when the boy commits suicide in prison. But Wendy’s estranged father wants to know the truth about her life – how she came to the point of sleeping with men for money and how she came to be murdered. As Scudder looks into the case, it seems the truth could be not as clear cut as it seems.
I’ve reviewed a couple of Block’s Burglar books on the blog a while ago – keep meaning to get round to some more, as they’re fun little reads – and have meant to try his Matt Scudder series for a while. I saw books 1-3 going cheap in Oxfam a while ago and thought I’d give them a try. I read one yonks ago – Even The Wicked, I think – and it was interesting, even if the mystery element was rather obvious. But Block is a talented writer so it was time for another go.
“Among the finest detective books penned this century” – that’s what Jonathan Kellerman has written on the back of this book. Wonder if Block says nice things about him…
Before I dive into this one, I saw an interesting list the other day on the Crime Fiction Lover website concerning the top 20 crime shows of all time – and of these, only two (Morse and Foyle) were real mystery shows, the others being crime dramas. And that’s what I expect when I pick up a private eye novel. Is it noir? That’s what I think of noir as being, so I’ll call it noir. Correct me if I’m wrong.
And that isn’t the case here. There is a major whodunit element involved here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a tale following our hero talking to various people and then revealing what happened, but there is a mystery for the reader to guess at the solution to. And I say guess at, because that’s basically what Scudder does. An intelligent guess, yes, but there’s no bona fide clues to spot.
Oh, I tell a lie, there’s one big honking clue staring you right in the face. But I won’t mention where it is, because then there would be no point reading the book. But it’s hard to miss and anyway, it was pretty inevitable…
But Scudder’s interesting company, and displays a disturbing dark side at the end of the book – possibly a little too dark, given what has gone before – and it’s a quick read.
I think my misgivings come more from a general dislike of the genre then anything that’s here on the page but I’ll give Scudder another try at some point – there’s two more books on the shelf. But I think I’ll be re-visiting our Burglar friend first. Recommended, if you like this sort of thing. But finest detective books of the century? I think that’s overstating things a tad, Jonathan.