“I didn’t have anything to say to that. And the anger I’d felt before was gone now, stuffed wherever that sort of thing gets stuffed. If I felt anything it was an almighty weariness. I wanted this little talk to be over and I knew it was going to go on forever.“
And that, in a nutshell, is the emotional tone of Hope to Die. A book filled with sober melancholy; Matt’s ex’s death and seeing his sons for the first time in four years brings a miasma of discontent to the story. Though Block tries to hook us in during the first chapter with Matt’s imagining the viewpoint of a couple in a double-homicide and robbery, his fabrication is not enough to build a great deal of interest in the crime. Once the killers are found in a locked apartment, supposedly victims of a murder-suicide, the city forgets about it. However, it isn’t long before TJ and a friend rope Matt into investigating the double-homicide. It isn’t so much that he thinks the case is worthy; he wants to a distraction to pull him out of the emotional fog. (Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic: Matt’s clearly avoiding dealing with the emotions his estranged family rouses in him).
Pacing was enjoyable once the actual investigation gets underway. As always, the relationship between Scudder and TJ is deceptively pleasant and easy, and it becomes clear that TJ is a second chance for Scudder to positively influence a ‘son.’ In keeping with the mournful tone, there wasn’t quite as much as Block’s usual humorous asides, and the city-scape seemed a little drab, except, perhaps, the house undergoing renovation and paying off an ‘inspector.’
One potential spoilery note on point of view: I take exception to Block’s effort to include the killer’s viewpoint, however. It seems like standard boilerplate, takes away from Block’s normal subtle building of the cityscape and its characters, and does little in its attempts to ratchet up tension. I find narration by the antagonist generally uninteresting, and feel it usually represents a weak attempt to invest tension into a story. Combining it with an internet chat forum was just annoying. Block uses it less ineptly than most, but I can’t help but feel it represents an attempt to up the juice when, just perhaps, he may be getting the slightest bit bored with Scudder. We’ll see–not many more books in the series left.
While there was some effort to bring in the depth and reflection found in early Scudder books, both Matt and Block feel half-hearted in their sincerity. The ploy of Elaine and Matt attending the donor’s dinner at Lincoln Center seems forced, when I can’t remember Matt referencing classical music before. Block making a point of Matt’s appreciation for jazz and classical music, then dropping a bunch of classical composer names and performances seems incongruous. I think back to prior books, and remember a passion for Chinese food one book, diner food another, evenings out at Mick’s, and attending an S&M club, and I wonder if actually, instead of Block showing us previously unknown sides of Matt’s personality, he’s just giving him whatever interest that book needs, or whatever New York scene we haven’t delved into before. Block also has become more overt in describing Scudder’s emotional issues. Unfortunately, that became kind of a sticking point for me in a series that originally stood on it’s subtle and complex characterizations.
Overall, the mystery was moderately interesting, with a couple of false leads, one or two more obvious than I prefer. I love TJ’s dynamic role. I like that Matt got drawn in by emotions and grief of the victim’s daughter, Kristin. Her character was wonderfully developed, along with the characters of the various investigating detectives. It was particularly nice to not blame the prematurely-closed case on incompetent police work. The bit character of the antiques dealer that lives on the ground floor was vintage New York. (spoiler follows)
However, I take issue with the plot device of “revealing-the-wrong-person-as-killer;” I feel like Matt’s too sophisticated and aware of justice issues to make this mistake. He’s hardly been the law-abiding type.
I’d recommend it for Scudder fans, but it sits at about a solid three stars for me in the Scudder continuum.