From: Curt Purcell ( curtpurcell@hotmail.com)
Date: 05 Nov 2007

Cross-posted from my blog:


A TICKET TO THE BONEYARD by Lawrence Block (Avon 2002)

Twelve years ago, when Matt Scudder was a cop, a sociopath named James Leo Motley began to terrorize his favorite hooker. Motley had a rap sheet with lots of arrests for violent crimes against women--but no convictions. Scudder took no chances, and fudged the evidence a bit to make a case against Motley stronger than it would have been. It worked, and Motley went away for a long time. But now he's out, and he's killing his way to Scudder (an "unlicensed private investigator," by this point), through all the women who have anything to do with him--even unrelated women with the same last name! Scudder's desperately clinging to his relatively newfound sobriety, but this case has him reaching for the bottle . . .

I've mentioned before that I wasn't really crazy about Eight Million Ways To Die, and basically wrote off Block and Scudder on the basis of it. Well, I'm glad I decided to give them both a second look, thanks at least in part to the Rara Avis discussion group.

Block's often noted for his smooth, brisk prose and storytelling, and they are indeed pretty damn good here. Scudder comes alive on the page with complexity, flaws, and the best he can do by way of virtues. Given what we see of Motley leading up to the final confrontation, Scudder has every reason to deal with the maniac the way he does, and yet his motives are revealed to be almost cancerous in their personal depth, mixed, murky, and painful to examine.

The single fault that stands out most in this novel is a heavyhanded over-emphasis on Scudder's involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous. While it does add several interesting facets to the character, it really is overdone sometimes. I'm sure Block is trying to make his depiction of a recovering alcoholic as realistic and convincing as possible, and I know they can get as wrapped up in AA as they used to be (or still are) in alcohol itself, but it does get repetitious, distracting, and downright boring in places, to say nothing of the irksome tone of advocacy that occasionally seems to creep into the writing at those points. I'm sure Block could have conveyed it to better effect a lot more economically. He could probably have dropped about thirty pages, just by tightening up the alcoholism stuff, and it still would have come across just as pervasively, only with a sharper edge.

On the whole, though, this is truly first-rate stuff, and I highly recommend it!

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