Reconnected with Matthew Scudder

I’ve been rereading Lawrence Block’s excellent Matthew Scudder series, in order. How wonderfully these novels hold up. I’d first read them as a young man (and then a not-so-young man–the series covers and was written over the course of many years, and it took me many to read them, as halfway through, I’d caught up with  Lawrence Block, reading as he was releasing, so there was a waiting period between books).  Back then, I most connected with the investigations of each new case, Matt’s intelligence, and the spot-on depiction of Manhattan. Scudder was a tough, savvy, cool guy with street smarts and just enough cynicism to stay sane in even the most sleazed-up world. I loved him, but I was focused on the mysteries themselves, always fascinated to see how Matt would figure it all out.

Now, as a middle-aged (plus) man, I’m seeing the books in a whole new light. The plots (while all still terrific), seem less important to me than this detective’s remarkable journey. They’re catalysts for Matt (and Mr. Block) to explore themes of addiction, obsession, perversion, corruption, hatred, violence, loss, age, and death, from the perspective of a man who never stops evolving–as a detective, as a recovering alcoholic, as a lover. Don’t get me wrong; these are still damned fine stories, with well-constructed and suspenseful plots that are seamlessly and perfectly married to the deeper explorations of life (as it should be in all great mysteries). Mr. Block never misses a step.

Lastly, reading them again, one after the other (the literary equivalent of binge-watching a really great TV series), keeps each tale fresh in my mind as I take the next part of the journey with Matt, making that adventure all the more rewarding. If you’ve never read these wonderful books and you love detective fiction, they are a must. If you have read them, maybe way back when, then do yourself a favor: pick up The Sins of the Fathers and start all over again. You’ll be glad you did. When you get to A Drop of the Hard Stuff, you’ll feel you’ve lived someone else’s life. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have a better understanding of your own, because of it.

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