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Small-time stoolie, Jake “The Spinner” Jablon, made a lot of new enemies when he switched careers, from informer to blackmailer. And the more “clients”, he figured, the more money – and more people eager to see him dead. So no one is surprised when the pigeon is found floating in the East River with his skull bashed in. And what’s worse, no one cares – except Matthew Scudder. The ex-cop-turned-private-eye is no conscientious avenging angel. But he’s willing to risk his own life and limb to confront Spinner’s most murderously aggressive marks. A job’s a job after all – and Scudder’s been paid to find a killer – by the victim…in advance.

”A bullet ricocheted. Those things happen.

Part of the reason I left the force was that those things happen and I did not want to be in a position where I could do wrong things for right reasons. Because I had decided that, while it might be true that the end does not justify the means, neither does the means justify the end.”

Matthew Scudder has a lot of reasons to drink, but seeing the face of the little girl his errant bullet killed is a constant reminder of the demise of his heroic vision of himself. He might not be a cop anymore, but he can’t completely move on. He’s working as a private investigator and trying to the best of his abilities to help people. Unlike being a cop, he can say no, or he can say yes.

He doesn’t really want to help Spinner Jablon, a low level criminal, but Spinner gives him a nice stack of much needed green to keep an envelope for him. It is an envelope that Scudder is supposed to open if anything unexpected happens to Spinner. Easy money, right?


When Spinner is fished out of the river with his head caved in, Scudder finds himself up to his neck in a sordid blackmailing scheme, and the only way he will find out who killed Spinner is to pick up where Spinner left off and put himself in the crosshairs of the killer.

Blackmailing someone is almost irresistible. Having leverage through knowledge or brawn is used all the time in business or in personal relationships. If you don’t do this, I won’t do that or maybe even something more forceful, like you better do this or I’ll make your life very difficult. Suck my cock or I’ll break your face approach to the world. In the case of Spinner, he had photographic evidence that would ruin several people.

The problem for those being blackmailed is, even if the blackmailers are asking for a reasonable amount of money, something they can swing, the thought has to be going through their minds…how long before they are back for more? The blackmailers blow through the money, and they think,…let’s tap that money pipeline one more time. We always have choices. We can come clean to the spouse or to the public and remove any hold that the blackmailer has on us. Of course, that may involve forfeiting your entire life, and few of us want to make that choice. It hardly seems fair, after all. We can pay the blackmailer and hope for the best, but how do we really ever trust someone willing to turn to blackmail to make money? The last and most unsavory of our choices is to kill the blackmailer. We can hire it done through some thug who is a friend of a friend or that blacksheep cousin we haven’t talked to in years, but then, by doing so, we create another loose end. We can do it ourselves; unsavory as the thought is, it is the most practical decision. This shows how dangerous blackmailing really is. When it becomes logical for a normal, law-abiding citizen to reach the conclusion that murder is the best option, blackmailing turns out to be a very, very dangerous profession.

Not that Scudder had any illusions about the insidiousness of becoming a blackmailer, but even he is shocked by the devastating effects it has on those who are faced with watching the imminent destruction of their life’s work. The loss of the esteem they have garnered with those around them is sometimes much more shattering than the loss of their position or money.

This is the second entry in the Matthew Scudder series and certainly fulfills all the promise from the first book in the series. I plan to read at least the first six in the series, and who knows, by then Scudder might be a comfortable addiction that is a necessary part of my reading list each year.

Matthew Scudder, assisted by larger and larger doses of bourbon & coffee, investigates the brutal murder of a blackmailer known as the Spinner. The prime suspects are the Spinner’s three cash cows, including:

1. A former hooker/porn star turned high society wife;

2. A wealthy father of a reckless driving, man-slaughtering ex-drug addict; and

3. A buggery loving, pederast politician running for Governor of New York.

As Scudder begins to look into his dead friend’s operation, he finds himself the target of the same killer that sent the Spinner swimming in the East River with the back of his head caved in. Written in Block’s crisp, condensed prose, this is a fast paced, wonderfully gritty story that you can breeze through in a couple hours.

In sum….a terrific experience.

All of the things that made The Sins of the Fathers such a memorable read are even better in this second installment of Block’s excellent noir, mystery series. The plot is more complicated, the bad guys are well drawn and far more dangerous and Matt’s dysfunctional life and growing alcoholism becomes increasingly more apparent.

When I reviewed The Sins of the Fathers, I asked the question, ‘Who is Matthew Scudder?’ After finishing the second book, I am pleased to report that I know more about him…and even MORE pleased to report that I still don’t have a good answer to the question. Yep, this man is a complicated riddle wrapped in a booze-soaked enigma. I can say this, he has become a favorite literary character and is one of the most compelling figures I’ve come across in my crime/noir reading.

Here’s what I have been able to ascertain about the man to date:

Matt’s a basically decent man (not snow white, but decent) whose life as a New York detective was derailed when he accidentally shot an 8 year old girl while taking down a pair of armed robbers. Since that fateful event, Matt left the force, walked away from his wife and two sons and crawled into a bottle. Now he comes out of his daily alcohol fog to “do favors for friends” as an off-the-books, unlicensed investigator. The world Matt navigates is a smoky, charcoal gray of ethical rationalizations and moral ambiguity. Despite that, Matt generally has his compass pointed towards what he believes is “just” and is unquestionably one of the “good guys.” He just doesn’t look (or always act) the part.

Did I mention that he drinks…a lot?

One of the really interesting things about this series is that when we first meet Matt in The Sins of the Fathers, his downward spiral hadn’t hit bottom. Thus, we get to watch his self-destructive pattern of behavior continue to accelerate. These stories are as much about what Scudder does away from the “case” as his investigations and that makes this something fairly unique. As I reader, I find myself coming back to the series as much to catch up on how Matt’s doing (hoping he’s doing better, but knowing he probably isn’t) as to see what kind of horrible crime he’s investigating.

Block has a real winner of a series here and there are more layers to these stories than you find in your typical noir mystery. This is good, good stuff. Lawrence Block’s writing is clean, understated and subtly powerful. Plus, the best part is that the GR friends that turned me on to this series all say that the stories only get…..BETTER.

I can’t wait.


About Time To Murder And Create Author

Lawrence Block has been writing crime, mystery, and suspense fiction for more than half a century. He has published in excess (oh, wretched excess!) of 100 books, and no end of short stories.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., LB attended Antioch College, but left before completing his studies; school authorities advised him that they felt he’d be happier elsewhere, and he thought this was remarkably perceptive of them.

His earliest work, published pseudonymously in the late 1950s, was mostly in the field of midcentury erotica, an apprenticeship he shared with Donald E. Westlake and Robert Silverberg. The first time Lawrence Block’s name appeared in print was when his short story “You Can’t Lose” was published in the February 1958 issue of Manhunt. The first book published under his own name was Mona (1961); it was reissued several times over the years, once as Sweet Slow Death. In 2005 it became the first offering from Hard Case Crime, and bore for the first time LB’s original title, Grifter’s Game.

LB is best known for his series characters, including cop-turned-private investigator Matthew Scudder, gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner, and introspective assassin Keller.

Because one name is never enough, LB has also published under pseudonyms including Jill Emerson, John Warren Wells, Lesley Evans, and Anne Campbell Clarke.

LB’s magazine appearances include American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, Linn’s Stamp News, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and The New York Times. His monthly instructional column ran in Writer’s Digest for 14 years, and led to a string of books for writers, including the classics Telling Lies for Fun & Profit and The Liar’s Bible. He has also written episodic television (Tilt!) and the Wong Kar-wai film, My Blueberry Nights.

Several of LB’s books have been filmed. The latest, A Walk Among the Tombstones, stars Liam Neeson as Matthew Scudder and is scheduled for release in September, 2014.

LB is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and a past president of MWA and the Private Eye Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times each, and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Diamond Dagger for Life Achievement from the Crime Writers Association (UK). He’s also been honored with the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award from Mystery Ink magazine and the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement in the short story. In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Germany, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Taiwan. As if that were not enough, he was also presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. (But as soon as he left, they changed the locks.)

LB and his wife Lynne are enthusiastic New Yorkers and relentless world travelers; the two are members of the Travelers Century Club, and have visited around 160 countries.

He is a modest and humble fellow, although you would never guess as much from this biographical note.

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