6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2011
This is the book fans of Lawrence Block have been waiting for since 2005: Scudder is back! It's not my favourite Scudder book (the previous book, All the Flowers are Dying, takes that prize) but this series is so superior to almost any other crime fiction out there that even an average Scudder tale is well worth browsing your favourite online bookstore for (i.e. it's not something you're likely to find in Waterstones, unless I'm very much mistaken).
For the record, Matt Scudder is a former NYPD detective and now unlicenced crime fighter. This is a flashback episode whereby Matt is talking to an old drinking buddy and relates a story to him. The plot follows Matt through the latter part of his first year as a former drinker now attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings around the city, in the course of which he meets an old acquaintance from his childhood. His former schoolmate is working through the twelve-step process and, having reached step eight, is engaged in `making amends' to people he perceived he has harmed along the way. I won't give any more of the plot away; suffice to say it is written with the author's normal wit and intelligence and bounces along at a good pace. It feels like quality time spent with an old friend - and you can't argue with that.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
First Sentence: "I've often wondered," Mick Ballou said, "how it would have all gone if I'd taken a different turn."
A present-day Matt Scudder reminisces with his friend, Mick Ballou about a case in his early days of sobriety, particularly an incident when he was approaching his one-year mark in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Jack Ellery, now at sixteen months sober, was trying to follow each of the twelve steps; including making reparation to others for the harm he had done them. When Jack is murdered, his AA sponsor asks Matt to find out what happened. Doing so nearly costs Matt his sobriety and his life.
The book opens with a thought we have all considered of "what if?".
I have missed Scudder. Block has a wonderful use of language, a great voice and does dialogue so well. It is very natural with excellent flow with just the right touch of humor. In talking to a cop about the investigation into Jack's murder..."...it is on my plate, and my mother raised me to finish every....But on the dinner plate of crime, my friend, Jack Ellery is the Brussels sprouts." There is a delightful exchange involving the confusion over Buddha, the bouncer at a rough bar, and the Buddha sitting under the bodhi tree. His writing includes wonderful quotes, literary references and small truths that sound cliché because they are true, but they make you think.
Block's sense of place and time add to the depth of the story. You needn't have spent time hanging out in after-hours bars as Block takes you there and draws a chair up to the table for you. His knowledge and love of New York City are apparent in every page, but he is as aware of its dark side and flaws as its attractions. The main part of the story is set in a time before cell phone and technology, when investigation was still done with quarter phone calls, the public library, taking the subway and shoe leather to ask questions. It was a time with HIV/AIDS was just taking hold, but there was not a name for it yet, other than Kaposi's sarcoma. Yet there is a nod to today in the transition back to present time.
Even if one has not read previous Scudder books, the backstory is included in a way to prevent new readers from feeling lost, but doesn't slow down the story at all. Also, one could be concerned that the information on AA could be preachy or depressing, but it's not. Instead, it is a facet of understanding the characters.
This is vintage Larry Block and it's great. All the elements I particularly love about his writing, and particularly the character of Matt Scudder, are all here. If one hasn't read the series before, I always recommend starting at the beginning, but it's also nice that this book stands very well on its own.
A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF (PI-Matthew Scudder-NYC-Cont) - Ex
Block, Lawrence - 17th in series
Mulholland Books, ©2011, US Hardcover - ISBN: 9780316127332
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2011
'A Drop of the Hard Stuff' is an excellent return to classic Scudder - both in the quality of writing, and indeed the period (the book is told as flashback, topped and tailed by 'current' Scudder).
And as the book is set in the past, it allows for the reintroduction of some favourite (deceased) characters, and introduction of some contemporary new ones - together with new insights on earlier events...
This book is strongly recommended; don't wait for the UK edition!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2011
Read this book whilst on a road trip to New York.
This is my first Lawrence Block book and I was a little concerned to find that the character Matt Scudder has appeared in previous books. Scudder's background is included in this book in a way that doesn't detract from the story for Block's avid followers. A Drop of The Hard Stuff is a good stand alone copy that does leave you maybe wanting to read more of Blocks repertoire.
Matt Scudder is a former NYPD detective now working alone as an unlicensed private investigator, living alone in a hotel room after his marriage and career failed.
The story is told as a recollection of the past whilst Matt is talking to an old drinking buddy. The story follows Matt through his first year of not drinking and his efforts to stay sober. He attends AA meeting around the city and meets up with an old childhood friend and so the story begins.
Enjoyed this book particularly as I read most of it whilst I was in New York. Think my location helped bring the book to life. Block doesn't go a lot on description and felt that although the characters remained faceless to me the city needed no description.
Must say though, the book fell to pieces in the heat of New York.
on 22 July 2014
A seasoned veteran of the world’s favourite private detective series will look at the title of this book think that Mr Block has outdone himself. A quintessential Scudderism, the very name of the tome encapsulates everything the series has stood for, and everything the books have talked about for so long, that the information contained within each volume of this extraordinary series has become embedded into our consciousness. In short, the book’s title is brilliant.
The story itself begins (after an all-night stint at Grogan’s with buddy Mick Ballou) as an unofficial investigation into the sudden death of a long lost acquaintance of the world’s favourite PI. John Ellery, (the name of this character a tribute to EQMM?) is a former school friend of Matthew, turns out to be two years sober (twelve months longer than Matt) and after a series of run ins with the law, and narrow escapes from it, he is doing his best to stay clean, stay sober, and to stay alive. After some fascinating conversations with this character, the reader is well on the way to liking him for the steady man he is trying to be when we learn that someone put a bullet into his brain and another into his face.
Scudder impresses local detective Dennis Redmond with his theories concerning the motives behind the shootings and the pair agree on what is a good place to start the investigation. Redmond is happy for the Scud to take the lead as the case is not a high profile one, and in Redmond’s words, taken from page fifty: "On the dinner plate of crime, my friend, Jack Ellery is the Brussells Sprouts."
I shall say no more of the plot, apart from letting slip this rather cryptic clue: It turns out that as part of Ellery's road back to personal and social redemption, he undertook the twelve step program rather vigorously.
The hunt for the killer begins here.
The only negative experience I gleaned from the book probably originates with my own mis-interpretation of the series as a whole. I assumed, as this is the final book in the series, that the full cast of much loved characters would be present and accounted for. And given the events of EVERYBODY DIES - a series highlight - some characters are unexpectedly present, whilst others are painfully absent.
In anyone else's hands, a book of this nature may seem dry and non eventful. But in the hands of the master of the modern day detective story, this is a compelling, riveting read. Reading a Matthew Scudder story is like jumping onto an express train travelling straight for the centre of noir-dom. Its like going on a roller coaster ride without closing the safety harness. Its like going to the zoo to see the lions and the tigers and the bears (oh, my!) and you notice that the cage door is hanging wide open. Its like walking across the grand canyon on a tightrope and you look down only to see yourself falling, falling, falling and it turns out the grand canyon is a giant bottle of scotch and in reality we are nothing but individual drops of the hard stuff in question.
But of course that is just my opinion. Read it, and recognise greatness.
on 5 June 2013
If you're the author of a well-loved character and that character has aged along with his or her fans, how can a new story idea be effectively written? The idea of James Bond limping around with a Zimmer frame and needing the toilet every half an hour isn't immediately appealing.
Over the last year, I've read 3 books that have taken on this problem by writing from the point of view of the protagonist introducing a story, then retelling it as if it were just another book in the series.
George Pelecanos did it with `What It Was', Reed Farrel Coleman in `Onion Street' and Lawrence Block in `A Drop Of The Hard Stuff'. I must say that in all these instances, the result has been a delight and so the method must work.
I must confess that when I read the first few pages of `A Drop Of The Hard Stuff' I had a slightly negative reaction. The preface seemed a little clunky and contrived and I wondered if Mr Block had finally written a Scudder novel that I wasn't going to enjoy. That's a huge thing to say and I want to berate myself already for typing those words. It's a simple thing to correct the error of my ways, however, as the book took off as soon as the story proper began.
Matt Scudder hooks up with a man he used to know (High-Low Jack) when they grew up together in the Bronx. In part it has that feel of an old movie where 2 men take very different ways (think O'Brien's priest to Cagney's gangster). They grew up on the same side of the tracks, but somehow ended up on different trains.
A number of years later their paths cross at an AA meeting.
It turns out that Jack is much further advanced in the AA programme than Matt; Matt is about to complete his first year sober and Jack is already at the ninth-step of the famous twelve-step program.
Being at the twelfth step means that High-Low Jack is working on making amends, seeking out those he's harmed over the years and apologising.
It turns out that Jack has been in prison and has led the life of a low-life. He's got a lot to make up for, including a murder.
Unfortunately, while trying to put the world to rights Jack ends up scaring someone into killing him. Jack's sponsor, a step-Nazi, feels responsible for the death and asks Matt to investigate.
The story unfolds with the usual ease, like Mr Block has simply pushed cruise control. The writing is smooth, the hooks sharp and catching and the story utterly captivating.
As with all Matt Scudder books, the case itself is only half of the story. The other half is Scudder's day to day life and his thought processes.
In this book, much of the focus is upon the ups and downs of a reformed alcoholic. Booze features heavily in the book in a variety of ways and I found this aspect of the novel really interesting.
There's a line-up of brilliantly written characters, including some old favourites, there's a love interest or 2 and there's the usual fun and games with word-play.
My early worries were completely unfounded. It's a special book. I'd recommend it to all Scudder fans (though I don't think they'll need telling), to all fans of detective fiction and to anyone who loves a strong story or wants to have a very real sense of where a book is set.
I'd also suggest that this would be a good place to start if you're thinking of meeting Matt Scudder. I think it would leave you hungry for more and looking for the first of the Scudder (`The Sins Of The Fathers') books and every one since.
A terrific read.
This latest Matt Scudder story is another great example of Lawrence Block's magnificent storytelling skills. It's a retrospective tale of murder, regret, temptation and closure, and sees Scudder chewing over an old case with a long-term friend. The sense of time is handled-well, and with the bulk of the story set in Scudder's first year as a recovering alcoholic, the process of coming off booze and being supported to do so is central to the story, and told magnificently.
Cops abusing alcohol is a common theme in tough crime fiction, but Block takes it to a different level in his Scudder stories. The issue is dealt with with frightening realism, and the 12 Step process used by AA described with real compasion and understanding. It makes Scudder a totally believable, fallible character, which is why the series is so strong.
Plot-wise, A Drop of The Hard Stuff was a little shaky in places I thought, with one or two plot-devices being a little predictable or lazy, but overall, the writing, storytelling and characterisations really made this an enjoyable read.
Block brings an elegance and grace to his writing that is simply lacking from other practitioners of the genre. Not only prolific but immensely talented and entertaining as a writer, Block is still leading from the front.
on 17 July 2013
I have loved Lawrence Block and his Matt Scudder series for many years and couldn't believe it when I saw this on Amazon. I had to check several times to make sure it wasn't one that I had already read before buying it for my Kindle. Perhaps not quite up to the standard of some of the previous novels but it was like meeting an old friend after not seeing them for many years and catching up. Hope there will be more!
on 21 April 2015
Yet again Mr block manages to keep your keen interest in a matt scudder book though in this one matt managed to surprise me at the end with a new side to his dogedness long may these books continue
on 25 February 2013
delight for scudder fans. hero older now in a plausible way but still Scudder, sharp and vulnerable all at once.