on 21 May 2002
Matt Scudder is living in a residential hotel in New York City after leaving his marriage of twelve years. A former police officer, Matt now works as a private investigator. He does not charge a regular fee but will request an advance and then ask for more if he thinks he has earned it. Often he puts ten percent of his advance in a poor box at any church he may visit at random.
Matt is sitting in Morrissey's Bar when it is held up by two gunmen. The owners do not want to involve the authorities, but instead offer a reward of $10,000 for the identity of the two gunmen.
Tommy Tillary is a securities salesman who frequents Armstrong's Bar, one of Matt's favorite hangouts. Tommy's wife is stabbed to death in their home in Brooklyn during an apparent burglary. Tommy has an alibi for the crime since he was seen in public with his girl friend on that particular evening. However, the two burglars are caught and they claim Tommy hired them to burglarize his home for insurance purposes but they deny killing his wife. The police learn that Mrs. Tillary's estate is about to inherit $500,000 from an aunt and a life insurance policy will pay another $300,000 to Tommy. The police then see Tommy as having 800,000 reasons to kill his wife. Tommy asks Matt to find sufficient evidence to clear him and salvage his reputation.
Matt has another friend named Skip Devoe who is a partner in a noisy establishment on Ninth just below Fifty-Sixth. Skip keeps two sets of books and somebody steals the honest set. The books are being held for a ransom of $50,000 and Skip hires Matt to help retrieve them.
Matt now has three crimes to solve and he is working on all of them simultaneously, although he is seldom sober enough to fully concentrate on them. Matt is basically an honorable man who is struggling to keep his life together as he gets dragged down by alcoholism.
In spite of Matt's depressing lifestyle, the book does have its lighter side and the reader is entertained throughout by an array of Runyonesque characters who hang around the bars near Columbus Circle.
on 5 October 2000
"When The Sacred Ginmill Closes" sees Matt Scudder back in action in New York City. Unusually for the Scudder series, it is told in flashback although only at the start and the end.
Scudder is asked to find the robbers of an after hours drinking club, and from this a story errupts concerning a bartenders stolen books and the murder of the wife of one of Scudder occasional drinking partners.
This is an important novel in the Scudder series as it sees a transition from the alcoholic Scudder to the non drinking one of the later novels. This marks a change in direction of the series, and develops the character in an interesting manner.
Lawrence Block's writing is as superb as ever, wiht every sentence sparkling with quality. The plot is believable and progresses at a quick pace. The only criticism of this novel is that the resolution seems be a little easy.
Overall, another fine Lawrence Block novel, and another good entry in the Matt Scudder series. But does Lawrence Block ever write a bad book?
on 6 July 2016
Lawrence Block is my favourite writer. His first Scudder novel, The Sins Of The Fathers, is probably my favourite all-time read but this little gem, another Scudder novel, as it happens, weighs in a close second. For the uninitiated, Block hits it out of the park when it comes to clean, smart writing and Scudder is a wonderful character. A PI (unlicensed, he'll be quick to tell you) with a dark past and drinking problem, Scudder seems like a noir cliche but he's anything but. The seedy, grainy world he inhabits, and the characters he meets within it, fill each page with colour and charm and violence like you wouldn't believe, and, in the Sacred Ginmill, Block turns the dial up to eleven with all of the above. The ending will have you questioning not only the morality of Scudder, but your own as well. It's really that good.
on 11 October 2002
This is the first Matt Scudder book I read and possibly the best although it would be a difficult choice. The book works equally well on a number of levels and manages to keep the different storylines equelly interesting. The title is taken from a song by Dave van Ronk which perfectly mirrors the book. The feeling permeating the book is sadness, sadness at lost opportunities, at broken friendships and love that is not strong enough to make a difference. It is difficult to praise this book too highly.
on 28 March 2014
This book opens with a bang. Literally. Matthew Scudder is sitting with some buddies in early July when a large explosion shatters the conversational tranquility that is enveloping the place and before peace is returned in full, the bar is held up and a small fortune is taken. Eventually (three chapters in) Matt agrees to take the job of finding out whodunit, and the whydunit, but before he makes much progress, the wife of a friend of a friend is killed and once more the task of finding the killer falls in the lap of our hero.
Some books contain a chapter or a phrase that is so extraordinary and so beautiful that it lifts the work above the realm of the ordinary and into the space or territory of the mythical. When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes is like this. Chapter twelve opens in a drab, samey manner (just like its preceding sibling chapters) with our man Scud drinking his way through the three simultaneous mysteries he is attempting to solve. After ensuring one of his clients gets home safely after a hard and depressing night on the booze, he leaves his own apartment at some insane hour and finds himself drinking bourbon at Armstrong's. Conversation with the owner takes precedence over drinking and before Scudder knows it, he is (we are) experiencing and learning about the heart-breakingly beautiful paralytic dancers from Dave Van Ronk's mournful jazz masterpiece, "When the sacred Gin Mill closes". I won't infringe copyright by quoting the text here but rest assured this section of the book is worth the cost of admission alone.
Back in the real world, days after the first listen, Scudder is helping his buddies solve a minor problem of extortion, and the song is still playing on his mind. Just like mine. And yours, too, when you read it. But this book is about more than Dave Van Ronk and his music. It is about friendship, and booze, and keeping your promises. And it is also about Ireland, and family, and home, and tradition.
But most importantly, it is about truth, and how beauty can be found in the most unlikely and unexpected of places. So hang in there. Just like Matt does.
on 14 December 2012
Hugely enjoyed Lawrence Block`s recent novel `A Drop of the Hard Stuff', which was a 2010 memoire of NY around 1982. It was a long overdue resurrection of his hero Matthew Scudder (MS). This 17th novel about this alcoholic NYPD detective/unlicensed private eye, decades later still battling alcoholism a day at a time, glorified attendance of AA-sessions, keeping close contact with sponsors (coaches), etc., in addition to telling a great tale.
This novel came out in 1986 and deals with the summer of 1975. Over a decade later, MS retells three crimes committed in 1975: an armed hold-up of an illegal after-hours bar; a bloody murder/robbery in Brooklyn and the theft of a bar's true financial records. Hard-drinking Matt became involved in all three events and received a fee for two of the cases. With a hefty sum for solving the third case...
Loving his comeback, I found a dusty copy of this novel on my shelves. Whilst the 2011 book is an ode to AA and MS's almost religious, decades-long adherence, attendance and abstinence, this book reads like a commercial for multinational whiskey- and beer brands. MS is divorced with two small sons, lives in a cheap hotel, always eats out and graces 20+ bars with his presence. But only two or three bars are truly significant. They host his closest friends or contacts.
MS' quest suffers from hangovers, short-term memory loss and missing clues he would not have missed earlier. He realizes he cannot go on drinking how he does, before making one breakthrough after another in the cases under his care... What happens in this book is awesomely-well described, full of a languid, sure-footed kind of `flow', well paced and with great dialogue. And plenty of nastiness, crossing of friends and taking the law into one's own hand.
Do not miss this book. And its latest sequel.
on 6 September 2013
An excellent book - more about character than plot/mystery. The whole story is character driven, and gives a real feel of New York then, the bars and the drinking. Completely believable and not at all over the top. What a shame I cannot go and have a quiet drink in Armstrongs with Matt Scudder.
on 27 March 2003
Matt Scudder is living in a residential hotel in New York City after leaving his marriage of twelve years. A former police officer, Matt now works as a private investigator. In spite of Matt's depressing lifestyle, the book does have its lighter side and the reader is entertained throughout by an array of Runyonesque characters who hang around the bars near Columbus Circle.
on 9 November 2013
I enjoyed this book as I think the writers description of characters and locations makes me feel I am in New York with Scudder.Lawrence Block is an excellent writer.
on 3 October 2013
This novel is part of a series featuring the author's recurring character 'Matt Scudder'. It vividly portrays the 70's, and the culture of a group of alcoholics.