A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block starts with Matthew Scudder revisiting an early case in his career as a private investigator. Newly sober and just released from his position in the NYPD following the accidental shooting death of an innocent bystander. While attending AA meetings, and in the midst of the stagnation of his current relationship, Scudder becomes re-acquainted with former classmate Jack Ellery, a man who took the opposite path and became a career criminal. When Ellery is murdered, Scudder investigates at the requests of Jack’s AA sponsor and friend.
Though there was a lot I enjoyed about this book, I did have some mixed feelings about it. This is my first time reading a Lawrence Block novel, and I would like to read another. Block has a distinct and detailed style which immerses the reader into the surroundings and habits of his characters. At all times, I felt like I was a fly on the wall of Scudder’s world and I love that feeling (or I normally would have), but here it was a bit problematic because of my lack of history with Scudder. This is the 17th book in the series, and while I liked the writing, this is not the one to ease into as a new reader.
Scudder is early into his sobriety, and a lot of the novel was concerned with detailing his program, examining AA history and sayings, meeting attendance and just how faithfully Scudder has to cling to his program and work his twelve steps. There isn’t much here that allows the reader a glimpse of who Scudder is later in life (which make up earlier books), so I didn’t feel like I was getting much insight into the way that he developed or reasons that he turned out the way he did. I did get way too much AA, so much so that I felt like the book was more a psychological study of Scudder and his sobriety than to him solving Ellery’s murder.
While the AA bits proved tedious, the case he was working was interesting, and provided unanticipated twists along the way. I’m rarely truly surprised with murder and mystery- there is usually an inkling of something somewhere- but I was in the dark for most of this one. Block is a great writer and has the kind of depth in characterization that I appreciate in crime novels. I will definitely read other Scudder novels, because I can clearly see the appeal – the writing is excellent. I doubt if I will read all seventeen books in the series, but I will ask around for a better entry point into these books.