RARA-AVIS: Re: Block's Best Novel

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 12 Nov 2007


Re your question below:

"Okay, Lawrence Block has had a long career and written a lot of books. I've only read a few, so I want to know what do you consider his best book, and why?"

I'll list three, two fiction and one non-fiction.

His best novel is EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE, the fifth in his Scudder series, and the most ambitious in the series to that point. Unlike similar novels such as Wade Miller's GUILTY BYSTANDER or Mickey Spillane's THE GIRL HUNTERS (both fine books, BTW, don't get me wrong), Block does not depict his detective as being motivated to climb out of a drunken stupor to solve a case, but as solving a case while still a practicing alcoholic.

In earlier books, you could quibble. Scudder's not an alcoholic. Not really. Sure he likes to drink, but he's in control; he's not controlled by his need for booze. THAT'S the difference.

By EIGHT MILLION, though, neither the reader, nor Matt, can continue to kid themselves. Matt's an alcoholic and he's got to do something about it or he'll die.

Block, then masterfully depicts Scudder struggling with two separate, life-threatening problems simultaneously. Hi search for a deranged killer, and his efforts to come to terms with, to simply admit, his alcoholism and do something about it.

Before reading EIGHT MILLION, however, you should make a point of reading the four Scudder novels preceding it, IN THE MIDST OF DEATH, THE SINS OF THE FATHERS, TIME TO MURDER AND CREATE, and A STAB IN THE DARK, in order to see Scudder's deterioration over time.

Since the subject line asks for "Block's Best Novel," I'm going a bit off-topic by mentioning ENOUGH ROPE, his door-stopping collection of some of his best short fiction, including all the Scudder short stories written to that point, as well as entries about some of his other series characters like Keller and Bernie Rhodenbarr, plus dozens of stand-alones. Block is a master of short fiction, and this book is a primer for how it should be done.

Finally, since Block really is someone who can tell an aspiring writer how it should be done, his collection of his WRITERS DIGEST columns on writing fiction, TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT, is, not surprisingly,
 perhaps the best "how-to" book about writing I've ever read.


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