Hoorah – my favorite hard-boiled NY PI, Matthew Scudder, is back in the latest entry from Lawrence Block – “A Drop of the Hard Stuff.” I should state that Matt is not as hard-boiled since he quit drinking, and the struggle to do so is partly chronicled in this book. This is sort of a prequel as it opens with Matt sitting with his old friend Mick Ballou and reminiscing about the past, when Matt was still shy of a year sober. He had met with an old childhood acquaintance turned criminal at an AA meeting. His now-sober friend, Jack Ellery, is working on the 12 steps of the AA program and focusing on #9 – making amends to people he injured. Then he’s killed and his AA sponsor asks Matt to look into the matter, because he fears one of those people may have been the murderer. There are more murders, all related to Jack and the police don’t have a clue. But they are willing to listen to Matt, an ex-cop, when he explains the possible connection with Step 9 and the people on Jack’s amends list. Matt talks with them all and can’t see that any of them could have been the culprit. Matt has to look deeper into the case and the method of the murder, bullets to the forehead and the mouth, become a vital clue.
Block is a long-time New Yorker and he loves his city. You can tell by his vivid descriptions of the various neighborhoods, the cafés, the bars, the restaurants, and the unbelievable number of AA meetings just in Manhattan. Since most AA meetings are held in Church basements, his circuit of the locations is like a walking tour of Manhattan. This is the 17th in the Scudder series and the first one in six years. I’m glad he’s back – his New York isn’t always pretty but it’s so very real. Block also writes the Bernie Rhodenbarr series and the Keller Hit Man series, among others. Pick up any book in the Matthew Scudder series – they’re all terrific!