Lawrence Block

A Drop of the Hard Stuff

"A welcome return for Matt Scudder."


Matt Scudder and 'High-Low' Jack Ellery were acquaintances growing up in the Bronx but their lives took different paths. Scudder joined the NYPD while Ellery took to a life of crime and ended up in a police line-up. The only thing that they had in common was their alcohol dependency. In time both dried out, Scudder left the force and Ellery was inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step programme to atone for his past misdemeanours. The ninth step involves him making amends to all the people he had wronged during his life. The only problem is that it is a long list and many on it don't realise that it was Ellery who committed the crimes.

When Ellery is killed, Scudder is pulled into the world that his old schoolmate left behind. There is a list of potential killers all with a good reason to want Ellery dead but no obvious prime suspect. Only as the list of victims grows does Scudder realise that he will soon be in the killer's sights.

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The return of Matt Scudder is always something to look forward to. Lawrence Block writes excellent books but his Scudder thrillers are a cut above the rest. In this book, Block takes us back to Scudder's early years. It is a great plot device for fans of Block who have seen his characters mature and develop. However I wouldn't recommend it to those new to the Matt Scudder books. Some of the characters who make an appearance here have long departed the series, some of them violently and the small round-up of their fates at the end of the novel would spoil the reading of other books. For fans of the series however, the book is a treat and it is great to see the return of old characters. There is a slight air of sentimentality about the writing that you don't always see in Block's work. The New York that he revisits is vastly different from today's city. There are no mobile phones or computers. Gentrification of the working class areas has only just begun. However this nostalgia is tinged with warning. A disease amongst the homosexual community has begun to spread and reference is made at one point to the twin towers. There is a sense of the old world on the cusp of the new. A welcome return for Matt Scudder.

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