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on June 20, 2016
I have been reading through the series of 17 Matthew Scudder novels for several years now. I have forced myself to take the project slowly and space each book 2-3 months apart. I did not want to binge the whole thing in a few months. The subtle nuances of atmosphere and place should be savored.

In some ways, it has been like experiencing a time lapse movie of 35 years of New York history. Scudder’s character like the city itself has changed, grown, and reinvented itself many times over since he debuted in Sins of the Father in 1975.

I am glad this entry was written in 2011 because it is a much stronger effort than the preceding 2005 novel All the Flowers Are Dying. If the series ends here, it has ended on a high note. In fact, I would put A Drop of the Hard Stuff in the top 5 or 6 best of the series.

This novel contains a very short prologue set in the present day, but the bulk of the narrative takes place in the early 1980’s, just as Scudder was getting sober between the events of Eight Million Ways to Die and Out on the Cutting Edge. Scudder is approaching his 1 year sober anniversary when he meets a childhood friend High-Low Jack at an AA meeting.

Their lives have taken similar paths—Scudder became a slightly corrupt alcoholic police officer riddled with guilt over the accidental death of a child; Jack became a small-time crook with a drinking problem. Jack is now attempting to follow the 12 AA steps, but Step 9 proves to be trouble. His effort to make amends to everyone he wronged while drinking dredges up both painful memories and a grudge from an old accomplice who wants the past to stay forgotten.

High-Low Jack turns up dead, and Scudder finds himself confronting his own life choices, his still-raging addictions, and musing on how he (and the city around him) must grow and change to survive. It’s a powerful, compelling mystery and story of human nature at the brink of self-destruction.

4 and a half stars.

For the record, my Top 6 favorite Scudder novels are:

1. When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes (#6 in series)
2. Eight Million Ways to Die (#5)
3. The Devil Knows You’re Dead (#11)
4. Everybody Dies (#14)
5. A Long Line of Dead Men (#12)
6. A Drop of the Hard Stuff (#17)
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on August 8, 2015
Another smash hit for Lawrence Block, and hearkens back to the early just-off-the-sauce days for Matt Scudder. Block really has the gift for dialog here, and there are a couple of twists and turns that I really didn't see coming. Just when you think you have it figured out, he surprises you and the story builds to a different conclusion than you thought (or maybe hoped) it would. A Drop of the Hard Stuff is about crime and punishment, old scores and justice denied, all wrapped up with Scudder's trip through his first year of sobriety and Alcoholics Anonymous. Altogether, this is a terrific read, second only to his best "Everyone Dies", but with a very different, almost surreal background, less tension, and more cerebral. I almost wish I had read this book before "Everyone Dies", but because I read them reversed "A Drop of the Hard Stuff" worked in a different way mentally for me than it would have otherwise. Mick Balleau works his way into the story just as a cameo, and you are left with a sensation of New York City that reminds you how glad you are to visit by means of Block's stories. Five stars plus, and one that I won't forget for more reasons than one.
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on September 18, 2013
This book is written in a jaded, been-there, done-that, through the wringer, kind of worn out and discouraged, but still not giving up, kind of hard-boiled style. There is a sense of many of the characters plodding and slogging through life. You get a lot of their struggle, their trials, their thoughts, their weaknesses. You get a really good, thorough, alcoholic's view of recovery and AA meetings, and mutual support and temptations. Scudder goes to a lot of meetings, at least one a day. I have to believe that for many recovering alcoholics, what is described in this book is pretty realistic. I can easily picture many readers not being thrilled with the frequent description of recovery and meetings and the Book and the 12 steps, etc, so maybe this book isn't for them. But I was very interested in it all. And the mystery was very good, well woven into the personal life of Scudder, having its impact on him and others around him. It was a good study in human weakness and struggle, with interesting characters. And despite the hard-boiled nature of most of it, I DID care about the character and some of the lesser characters, whether or not they succeed. It is definitely as "one day at a time" kind of book, which is pretty much what life is all about, with a good mystery in the mix.
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Matt Scudder is back in this newest book by Lawrence Block. In this novel, Matt is telling a friend about events that happened many years ago when he was nearly one year into his sobriety. He had a childhood friend who was in the process of making amends when he got killed. This friend had gone from a life of crime into AA and was doing a turn-around. Matt, himself, had once been a cop who quit the force after accidentally killing a child. He became a private eye. This book deals with Matt trying to find his childhood friend's killer after the friend's sponsor hires him for this job.

There is a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous in the novel as Matt finally squeaks into nearly a year of sobriety after years of struggling with the bottle. He was so far gone at one time that he had to be hospitalized for convulsions and was told he might not live if he kept drinking. There are some old characters here along with new ones. Mostly, though, this is a tale that Matt tells to a friend as he nurses a non-alcoholic drink.

The tale takes the reader all around Manhattan and into lots of delis, bars, AA meetings and even museums as Matt searches for the killer and talks to suspects. We visit Matt in the one bedroom he rents in a hotel after his divorce. Jan, his old girlfriend, is back in the story along with some new love interests.

Block's take on AA is as perspicacious as ever and he knows the group well - its meetings, confidentiality, steps, sponsorship and ambiance. Matt waxes philosophical about life and living and understands the true essence of 'one day at a time'. He realizes that there are no certainties and that the here and now are all that we can take for granted.

Matt's first person account of his search for a killer is laid back and folksy - if a murder mystery can be that. It's interesting and entertaining as are most of Block's works.
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VINE VOICEon June 17, 2011
AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, has saved millions of lives from the addiction of alcohol. Incorporated into this program are Twelve Steps to make life easier. The eighth step '8.Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.' may be the most difficult and, in this novel, the most dangerous.

Matthew Scudder, an ex NYC cop/detective, left his job because of his drinking that led to problems all around, the loss of his wife, his job and a life that was out of control. He moved into a hotel, took odd jobs as a private detective, no license, just money under the table and something to do. The something to do that keeps him very busy is joining AA and giving up booze. He goes from one AA meeting to another, talks to his sponsor every night, and has a Chinese dinner with him every Sunday. Matt wants to quite drinking and does everything he can to maintain his sobriety. He has several women friends, a serial monogamist, so to speak. One day he runs into Jack Ellery, an old school friend. They meet at an AA meeting. Jack has been sober for almost two years, which is exactly where Matt wants to be. And, Jack wants what Matt has, a straight life led without crime. They strike up a wary friendship. And, then a violent crime takes place, Matt is asked to help find the answers.

Lawrence Block as an author is new to me, but he won't be for long. His style of writing is the best there is. Crisp, characters so well developed that I can see them in my mind's eye. The kind of writing that keeps my eyes on the page and wanting to read this one through at one sitting. A moving, at times emotional story, that delivers a rich storyline.

Highly Recommended. prisrob 06-17-11

Keller in Dallas

Eight Million Ways to Die (Matthew Scudder Mysteries)
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Lawrence Block has said that he penned A Drop of the Hard Stuff under pressures from his accountant. Ready to retire, it was still necessary for him to return to Matt Scudder. Whether true or not, the tale carries a touch of finality but the telling demonstrates the hand of the master. It is framed by conversations with Mick Ballou, one late at night and, finally, one very early in the morning. They are talking about the old days and Matt recounts the story of his search for the murderer of Jack Ellery, a criminal and a drunk who was trying to do the right thing. On his eighth step Jack is attempting to make amends to those he has wronged in the past. When he is shot twice, once in the mouth, his sponsor enlists Matt's help in trying to find the killer--perhaps one of the people to whom he has attempted to make amends.

The time is decades earlier. Matt has left the NYPD and is coming up on the first anniversary of his sobriety. In telling the Ellery tale he thinks through his earlier life, the people he has loved and the people he has lost. Hence the valedictory feel to the book. But (SPOILER ALERT) do not fret; Matt is alive and well at the end of his conversation with Mick.

Block's forte is lean, almost minimalist story telling with equally lean sentences, the kind, of course, that are most difficult to write. The novel is filled with Scudderian bon mots, not the heavier Chandlerisms, but the considered wisdom of a flawed, wounded, good man, whose creator has been at the game for all of his adult life. Lawrence Block dropped out of Antioch to become a writer. He has never looked back, paused or flagged. A Drop of the Hard Stuff is premium Matt Scudder, a story that winds through the streets of New York, through the memory and senses of its teller and finally comes to rest in a poignant, realistic conclusion.

Don't miss it and watch for more Block on the horizon, with a forthcoming Hard Case Crime book and the electronic release of much older material. His accountant will be happy, but so will all of his readers.
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on June 3, 2015
Years ago, if my house were on fire, I would scramble to save my Lawrence Block books. Now, of course, I can just grab my kindle! The point is, they are that important to me as pieces of writing. The Scudder series especially connects with my sense of humanity. His first person narratives are meaningful. Then add to that, a forgiving author who understands that humans are flawed and vulnerable throughout their lives, no matter your status or your past successes.

I truly enjoy Scudder, trust the reality of Scudder, and take Scudder's hand during each episode of his challenging life. This character is loved by me because his stories are the quintessential examples of Man Against Himself, to me, never a waste of the reader's time. Block is such a master at communicating the wholeness of the human soul through this Everyman character, one feels an understanding of oneself after every episode Block describes.

I savor each piece of writing Block has published, even some with characters and stories I dislike. His writing is honest and always insightful. Drop of the Hard Stuff may be his best episode of Scudder's troubled life. As always I feel Scudder becomes a stronger, more passionate human with each of his life adventures, like all of us could be. One who faces such a devastating disease as alcoholism, and who is determined to fight every day for the goodness they have learned to believe they have, never can let his guard down. A constant reminder of how one's family and friends have been affected by alcoholism surrounds the recovering alcoholic daily as he tries to rebuild what might be all that's left, his dignity and self-motivation.

I strongly suggest to readers who want to walk in the shoes of an alcoholic for understanding that they read the entire Scudder series in order. Not only will the reader be enlightened about alcoholic behavior, but each episode has a realistic, exciting detective-type investigation to enjoy. Block is a superb story teller through the Scudder character. Not only is this protagonist flawed by alcoholism, but he happens to be a keen, resourceful, and persistent retired detective, who doesn't always work "by the book", and how he untangles each situation is always interesting.
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on December 27, 2011
A Drop of the Hard Stuff is Lawrence Block's most recent mystery involving his detective Matthew Scudder. Scudder tells this tale from his younger years after he was forced out of the NYPD. Like so many fictional detectives, Scudder faces his problems of alcoholism. Scudder enrolls in Alcoholics Anonymous. As he approaches is one year anniversary of staying on the wagon, Scudder reconnects with a childhood friend who followed a route into a life of crime. Based on the AA 12-step program, the friend has tried to "make amends" for the harms he caused to others. Along the way, he is murdered. Without the resources of the police department, Scudder hunts down a killer. This was a very well crafted mystery set in a grittier New York City than we live in today. The use of AA as a backdrop worked very well. This is a worthwhile read.
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on November 6, 2014
almost took a 'pass' on buying this latest Matt Scudder novel thanks to a review I accidentally read in which the writer complained about "too much AA stuff" or the like. I'd had a similar thought when I read Hit Me (the most recent Keller novel), thinking that Block had allowed his philately to get the better of him, but I finally came to my senses and bought the paperback so my collection would not have that 'hole' in it. I reminded myself I've spent more money on meals that I did not appreciate nearly as much as I do a Block novel...most of which I read at least once every two years. And this one will be no exception. Vintage Block indeed. Yes, there is a lot of "AA stuff" in it, but then the crimes Matt gets involved in solving here are AA related (I'll skip the details, don't want to be a spoiler), so...duh! That reviewer probably complained there was "too much ice pick stuff" in A Stab In The Dark. My recommendation? Buy this book, read and enjoy
"Block's voice" as he weaves his usual magic, giving us a collection of characters (one of which is his beloved NYC) that seem real enough to touch. My only problem with this book is trying to figure out where it belongs on the shelf in the Scudder chronology. All of the usual sources simply list it in publication order (last, in other words), but on my next read through the series I'll find that place where he and Jan break up, after Carolyn from the Caroline and before Elaine reappears
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on July 22, 2014
A seasoned veteran of the world's favourite private detective series will look at the title of this book and 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.

BFN Greggorio!
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