A Matt Scudder book that came perilously close to the “DNF” as soon as I discovered Block using a serial killer viewpoint.
Dear Block, why did you do this? It was such a great run–was a serial killer really the direction you wanted to take the Scudder series? Why, I remember the good ol’ days when Scudder was a life drop-out, hanging out on bar stools and nursing his way through a whiskey and coffee, subsisting on his favors for ‘friends.’ Now officially retired and respectable, Scudder is still taking the occasional case, but comes equipped with a cell phone, a computer and actually–gasp–takes a taxi.
Actually, I’m not bothered by changing technology and Scudder aging. In fact, I feel Block missed the opportunity to be innovative with showing us more about Scudder’s experience on the downside of a long life and the contrast between his emotional and economic states from beginning to end. There is a short meditation on the role of TJ in his life and the absence of his own children, but there isn’t too much else. The story opens with Joe Durkin’s retirement, which could have been an interesting exploration of a duo working both sides of the law, much as Block did with Scudder and Mick. Instead, about a third of this book is from the perspective of a serial killer, an altogether disgusting experience that I feel adds little to the tale except a bitter aftertaste.
Digression. I do not understand why reading about a serial killer’s imaginings would be a reading experience people want to have. I believe in art with both capital and lowercase ‘a,’ and to experience a killer’s thoughts as he (spoiler) [anticipates, stalks, rapes and kills–especially the young boys] leaves me wishing I could Brillo my brain from the imagery. I get absolutely nothing out of the experience, not a single thrill of horror, nor sadness from witnessing a destroyed life, or any type of emotional catharsis. Nor does it meet any definition of entertainment value. The killer is one sick twist and we spend more than enough time in his head to make it believable. If reading Stephanie Plum left a jelly-doughnut sick aftertaste, this was the sour aftertaste of vomit.
I resorted to skimming over the killer’s parts, but there was nothing to be gained from finishing except series continuity. Set-up for the ending failed on even the mystery/detective fronts, marked by a series of paranormal “feelings” which came too fast and coincidental for any trace of book redemption. Characterization hits a low for Block, with everyone but a shop woman essentially bland and fading into the background. TJ is magically transformed to day-trader, and there’s something about his portrayal that is becoming uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the “Tonto” sidekick role where both Block and Scudder are content to leave T.J.’s emotional experience a blank slate. Perhaps it’s the way he is a boy wonder, a natural success with everything he tries, and is almost always able to provide Scudder with a crucial puzzle piece.
Easily the best parts of the book are the first two chapters. I found myself stopping at a quote on page 7, reminding me of Block’s ability to get at emotional truths:
“The last thing I wanted was a partner, but there’s something about that sort of offer that makes one want to accept it. You think it’s a cure for loneliness. A lot of ill-advised partnerships start that way, and more than a few bad marriages.”
I’ll check out the end of the series, but only out of sense of duty, and the hope the Block rediscovers the Scudder in his early books.