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Powells.com
Monday, December 31st, 2001


 

Everybody Dies (Matthew Scudder Mysteries)

by Lawrence Block

A review by Georgie Lewis

The term "cozy" connotes a mystery targeted toward the type of women who take time out from their quilting to sit by the fire and revel in the mischievous adventures of feline detectives (such as Sneaky Pie Brown or Koko and Yum Yum), or perhaps garner a few recipes amidst the red herrings in a Goldy Bear Schultz or Pennsylvania Dutch culinary whodunit. And, perhaps, fair enough. These titles are a far cry from the lurid details of a Thomas Harris or Jeffery Deaver serial killer thriller. Yet for me there are few things more cozy on a cold, wet weekend than spending the day under the blankets with a mystery that is as grisly as it is intelligent.

Some of my favorites for an all day read are the police procedurals from the British Queens of Crime, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, and (American born, but honorary Brit) Elizabeth George. These three writers imbue their lead detectives (Inspectors Dalgliesh, Wexford, and Lynley respectively) with such rich characterization and psychological depth that I anticipate each new mystery as much for the fresh glimpse it affords into the domestic lives of the detectives and their colleagues as for the thrill of another criminal conundrum.

However, my favorite fictional detective, the one whose unpredictable, dark, and complex approach to crime I most like to immerse myself in, is Matthew Scudder. Author Lawrence Block, an extraordinarily prolific writer, is as well known for his lighthearted, swift-footed, Bernie Rhodenbarr, star of the Burglar series, as he is for dark, complex Matt Scudder. Both series are set in Block's native New York. But you get the feeling that Scudder is the real stuff. Scudder’s day to day life — long walks on city blocks, subways rides, conversations with people from all walks of life, the odd trip to a jazz bar or the opera — is rendered in such loving detail that it is hard to imagine the details are not taken straight from Block's own life. Yet Block pulls no punches: the crime is as gritty, bloodstained, and just plain dirty as it gets.

Block quite possibly reaches his pinnacle in Everybody Dies, the fourteenth in the Scudder series. Scudder is an ex-cop turned P.I., sometimes licensed, sometimes not. As often as not, he accepts a case as a favor for a friend, and just as often money changes hands, but Scudder's world is generally made a little bleaker by the knowledge of what he has seen. Everybody Dies, however, sees Scudder having to ask himself just how far he will go out of loyalty or friendship. In a prose style sure and spare, Block brings together the intricate, well-paced plot and faultless characterization that have long set him apart from other mystery novelists. Rainy day companions don't come much better than internally conflicted, morally ambiguous New Yorker, Matt Scudder.


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