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Even the Wicked: A Matthew Scudder Novel Hardcover – February 10, 1997
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This is far from the best of Lawrence Block's landmark Scudder series-too little action or suspense, too much domestic bliss--so I'll just use its publication as an excuse to introduce newcomers to some past glories. The best of them all is still When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, definitely on my short list of the 100 Best Mysteries. But close behind are such other Scudder classics as A Long Line of Dead Men, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, The Devil Knows You're Dead, Eight Million Ways to Die, In the Midst of Death, A Ticket to the Boneyard, and A Walk Among the Tombstones.
From Publishers Weekly
Marriage to his old flame, Elaine, seems to have mellowed Block's veteran PI, Matt Scudder. He still continues to get his man with a combination of doggedness and occasional flashes of inspiration, but his life has become too cozy to make him the absorbing companion he used to be. Quiet domestic evenings spent talking things over with Elaine in Block's patented delightful dialogue alternate with thoughtful discussions, in this case, with the two perpetrators in the book, who give themselves up without a murmur. Voices are never raised; not even a roscoe barks. It's all too civilized, as if Scudder's formerly gritty world were moving closer to that of Block's much slighter series hero, the daffy burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. There are two plots here, ingeniously intertwined: one involves a serial killer taking out notable bad guys to the delight of the New York press, particularly a pushy columnist who gets to publish the man's gloating notes; the other concerns the mysterious killing, in broad daylight on a park bench, of a friend of a friend of Scudder's who's in the last stages of AIDS and has a complicated insurance arrangement. As usual, Block's ingenuity in finding new motives for crime is endless, his narration polished, his entertainment value high. What is missing here is the violence, or the constant threat of it, that made Scudder's earlier appearances memorable. The ending, involving Scudder's streetwise sidekick TJ, is downright sentimental. Brace up, Block!
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Unfortunately, this outing is the dreaded let-down entry. It was not a bad book; it was serviceable but lacked panache. It felt like a High Concept novel. It did not feel like a Matt Scudder story. Any detective could have been at the helm and it would not have changed the story. It did not even feel like a New York novel; it could have just as easily been set in Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Des Moines for that matter.
The opening premise is that a serial killer has taken to announcing his victims beforehand in the press and then killing them in superhero-life fashion despite their best security precautions. The fourth murder in particular is a neat locked room mystery. There are also two other mysteries at play in the novel, which Matt Scudder works in more or less parallel fashion. I figured out two of the three mysteries long before the detective--and both times I thought myself, "Oh, I hope that's not the solution Mr. Block chooses... Too obvious and too far-fetched."
The fact there were multiple mysteries detracted from the overall story. While this has happened before with Scudder, most noticeably in Out On the Cutting Edge, this time I could not see how the main plots (the serial killer and a possible copycat) tied to the other case (an AIDS patient murdered in a park) either via causality or thematically. Still, the writing is engaging and the plot keeps you involved. Like I said, it's a decent mystery, but certainly nowhere close to the best this series has to offer.
Preaching is basically story telling but when a story-teller passes from telling a story to preaching everyone can tell. I don't know if it's his advanced age or if he's seen the light but he's started preaching and I'm done with Matt Scudder. If Lawrence Block writes of other characters who aren't recovering alcoholics I'll probably read them, unless he keeps preaching.
In "Even the Wicked" the preaching is overwhelming. Preaching about sobriety and AA. And in this one he even manages to preach about abortion. I like Matt Scudder just like I like friends who are in AA but my friends in AA will shut up. Matt Scudder won't so I will avoid him.
The book would have merited a three-star rating from me if it hadn't been for the preaching. The writing was as good as I expect from Lawrence Block which is damned good. The story was fine. Not surprising, not exciting, but a good story carried by very good writing. But there were problems. When I opened the book I saw, "Even the wicked get worse than they deserve." Willa Gather "One of Ours"
"Willa Gather? Willa Gather? It's Willa Cather, you idiot." That's what I thought as I read that. Now, I don't blame Lawrence Block for this. I suspect the error wasn't his. Then there was the point where a "but" clearly should have been "out". And, "We'11" is not the same as "We'll". I'm sorry but I'm not used to seeing those errors in a Lawrence Block book.
So, Mr. Block, bring me a Bernie Rhodenbarr or a Kelly or even start a new series. I've enjoyed my long, and long-distance, association with you.
The main character gives a wonderful portrait of an alcoholic in recovery that shows how difficult it can be to resist whatever we crave to excess. Yet Scudder, who has so much stacked against his success, manages to acknowledge and avoid temptation which gives us some hope that we can also resist our less dangerous temptations.