Monday, April 22, 2013

Matthew Scudder's Last Case?

This, the sixteenth Matthew Scudder novel, opens as a psychologist comes to a Virginia prison to visit a man condemned to death for the brutal murders of three young boys. Although the evidence against him was overwhelming, the prisoner continues to protest his innocence. The psychologist claims to believe in the man's innocence, and he's the only one who does. The two men develop something of a relationship over the course of several visits and, at the end, the condemned man asks his new friend to witness his execution.

Meanwhile, up in New York City, P.I. Matthew Scudder is now in his middle sixties and in semi-retirement. He's given up the license he briefly held and no longer actively solicits business. But he will take the occasional client if one seeks him out. After all, no one in his or her right mind could imagine Matthew Scudder living in Florida, playing golf and lining up for the 4:30 p.m. early bird buffet.

A woman pays Matt $500.00 for what seems like a fairly simple task. She's dating a new man. She likes him, but he's a bit on the mysterious side. For example, they always go to her place and she's never been to his. She's worried that the guy might be a serial killer or--even worse--married, and she wants Matt to check him out.

Matt takes the case and he and his sidekick, T.J., immediately run into a brick wall. The guy has a fairly common name, and they can't get a whiff of him. They attempt to tail him one night after he leaves the client's apartment, but the guy gives them the slip.

Meanwhile, the psychiatrist from Virginia has evaporated into thin air and bad things begin to happen to unsuspecting people in New York. Matt will ultimately realize that something very bizarre and extremely dangerous is afoot. Even worse, a serial killer from a previous case may have Matt and his wife, Elaine, dead in his sights.

This book continues some unfinished business from the previous Scudder novel, Hope to Die, and it's great to see Matthew Scudder back in action. Many familiar characters put in an appearance, and the book has an elegiac feel about it. Matt realizes that he's getting close to the end of the line, and after following him for nearly forty years, readers are bound to feel as unsettled about that as Matt does.

This is a very good read and, when first published, had the feel that it might be the last of the Scudder series. Happily, that turned out not to be the case, but the book that followed this one, A Drop of the Hard Stuff, is a flashback to an earlier time in Scudder's life and so it seems entirely possible that this could be Scudder's last adventure. Thus
, even re-reading the book, one is torn between the temptation to devour it whole and the desire to stretch it out for as long as possible rather than let it go.

My only objection to the book is that here again, as he did in Hope to Die, Block alternates between Scudder's POV and that of the villain. After fourteen books in which the only voice was Scudder's, it's still more than a little jarring to have another one intrude, but still, I enjoyed this book immensely.

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