Monday, April 07, 2008

A Moment of Wrong Thinking

Last week, while casting about for something to read, I pulled down Lawrence Block's massive short story collection, Enough Rope, and read one of his Matt Scudder stories, A Moment of Wrong Thinking. It reminded me of how much I used to love Block's work. At one point he would have been in my top five writers. Now he's dropped off my radar.
Back in the mid 1980s I was reading mostly hardboiled detective fiction. There had been something of a revival of private eye books, brought about by the success of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series and the growing popularity of women crime writers like Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton. Seemed like every time I turned around, someone was starting a new PI series. I tried them all. Liked some, didn't like others.
Lawrence Block was at the top of the heap. His character, Matt Scudder, was an alcoholic ex-cop, living in a run down hotel in New York and operating as an unlicensed private investigator. The stories were street smart, well written, very hardboiled, and contained a certain melancholy that appealed to me back then. I would still consider 'Eight Million Ways to Die" to be one of the top five private eye novels of all time. Just stay away from the movie made from it. What are the other four? I'll save that for another post.
Anyway, Block had written five or six Scudders by the time I discovered him and I tore through them hand over fist. Then I anxiously awaited each new hardback release. But over time something happened. I'm not sure how much of that was Block and how much of it was me. I always wonder, when I start to be less taken with an author than I once was, have they simply moved into a direction that doesn't interest me, or have my tastes in reading changed? I suspect it's a little of both.
1993's The Devil Knows You're Dead is the last Scudder I can remember really loving. I dutifully read A Long Line of Dead Men (1994) and Even the Wicked (1997) but I had to struggle to finish Wicked. I can't exactly recall why now. It seemed as if Scudder had changed and had ceased to be the character I had originally been drawn to. I didn't finish 1998's Everybody Dies or 2001's Hope to Die. When All the Flowers Are Dying came out in 2005, I never even looked at it. Just cast a sidelong glance at the cover on the bookstore shelves as I passed. From what I understand, Flowers was written so that it could be considered an end to the series. Perhaps I wasn't the only one who fell out of love with the world of Matt Scudder.
These days Block seems to be doing most of his writing about his hit man character Keller. That series never caught my attention, even when I was a big fan. Neither did Block's other series character, a part time burglar named Bernie Rhodenbarr who starred in many comic crime novels such as The Burglar in the Library and the Burglar Who Thought he was Bogart. Just not my cuppa.
But reading A Moment of Wrong Thinking reminded me of just how good a writer Block is. Nothing wrong with the man's prose. I guess that, much like real life, sometimes friends just go in different directions. Maybe I'll go back and read some of the older books ands see if they still have the same appeal.

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