MATT SCUDDER had no such luck. He drank and became an alcoholic.
He used to be one of New York's Finest, a decent-enough detective, honest enough to get by, although he certainly wasn't a saint. He was also a family man, with a wife and kids out on Long Island. But it all came tumbling down when, off-duty, he tried to stop a holdup. A stray bullet in the ensuing shootout took the life of a little girl, and Matt soon found himself divorced and jobless. He lived in a Manhattan hotel now and took on the occasional job, doing "favors for friends," slowly drinking his way into the grave, inexpicibly leaving a tenth of his proceeds in church collection boxes. But mostly, it seemed, he sat in Armstrong's, a local bar, "maintenance" drinking and reading the day's atrocities in the papers. The series appeared to have come to a powerful, emotion-charged climax, with the classic, Shamus-winning Eight Million Ways To Die, when Matt finally realized he was an alcoholic. Yet, a few years later, after having told everyone who would listen that the Scudder series was definitely over and done with, Block brought him back with By the Dawn's Early Light, published in Playboy, which also nabbed a Shamus. It was later expanded and adpted into the novel When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. Since then the series has evolved, as Matt, now a recovering alcoholic, gradually comes to terms with his life. In later books, he's even become licensed, and he's been thinking of actually getting married.
There are some truly great characters in this series, including reformed call girl turned art dealer and love interest (and lately, wife!) Elaine; TJ, the chameleonlike street-savvy black kid who's slowly becoming Matt's full-time assistant, Mick Ballou, the unrepentant Irish mobster who's become Matt's best friend.
And the most finely-etched character is New York itself. The Scudder series, with its harsh New York backdrop, etched in Block's bittersweet prose, isn't for the mild. But it's not just a string of progressively bleaker nightmares either. As one character puts it in A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, "Drunk or sober, it will break your heart." He wasn't referring to the series, but he might as well have been.
There was even a film made of Eight Million Ways To Die, but, except for the usual great performance by Jeff Bridges as Scudder and a nerve-wracking showdown in a warehouse, it's an embarrassing mess, poorly-conceived, poorly-written and poor-executed, made all the more amazing by some of the talent involved. Scudder's dark, claustrophobic world of New York bars and gin mills is Californicated up, leaving us with drippy sentimental flashbacks and Hallmark psychobabble ("Do you consider yourself a happy person?" my ass!), a couple in love actually walking hand in hand on the beach and it's all just way, way too bright and shiny and up with people. It's a wonder screenwriter Oliver Stoner ever worked again after this mess.
Author Lawrence Block is a fan favorite and a writer's writer. As well as Scudder, he's been responsible for the Chip Harrison, Evan Tanner and Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery series. But, in my humble opinion, it's the Scudder series where he really shines. Eight Million Ways To Die is simply one of the best PI novels of all time, and Everybody Dies ain't too shabby either.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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