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it has been like experiencing a time lapse movie of 35 years of ...
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)