Saturday, January 19, 2019

Review: A Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder Novella

A Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder Novella A Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder Novella by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

I’ve read several interviews with Lawrence Block where he’s talked about how there were multiple times in his career when he thought he would never do another story about private detective Matt Scudder, but then something would happen that would make Block bring him back. So I guess fans shouldn’t be surprised that Block had one more story to tell years after we thought Scudder was done.

Matt is retired and living happily with his wife Elaine. Even though Elaine left prostitution many years ago she joins a support group of women who have quit the life, and she’s become a kind of sponsor to a young lady who has a problem with a client that flatly refuses to accept that she’s no longer in business and begins aggressively stalking her. The problem is that he used a fake name so she has no clue who he is. Matt agrees to help, but even if he can find the guy the law isn’t very good about protecting women from obsessive men so stopping him is another problem.

Like many crime/mystery readers I’m a huge fan of Lawrence Block and consider him one of the legends of the genre, and Matt Scudder is the bar by which I judge all other detective fiction with very few being close to the same level. So I was beyond excited to get the news about this new novelette being published. However, I was just a touch disappointed in this.

It’s still Block writing Scudder and much of what I love about the series is here. There’s some solid detective work to be done, and then Matt has to come up with a creative solution to a problem when he knows that there’s no way that the system will help this young lady. The core story and how it’s solved is Block doing what he does best without missing a beat.

Part of the appeal is Matt roaming around New York and getting into fun conversations with various folks that often have nothing at all to do with the case he’s working on. That’s here once again although with a bum knee now Matt doesn’t walk quite as much as he used to, many of his old haunts are gone now, and most of the people he knew in those stories are retired or dead.

That’s been a factor creeping into the last Scudder stories much like how life itself creeps up on all of us, and Matt’s aging in real time as New York has changed around him over the years is one of the points I enjoy about the series. However, a chunk of this book is reminding us of the people Matt used to know, and it’s kind of a bummer at this point. I was especially sad when conversation between Matt and Elaine reveals that they’ve fallen out of touch with TJ, the street kid who became a kind of surrogate son for them at one point in the series. And yeah, that’s life, but I always liked to think it was going to be TJ helping them out in their old age so it kind of hurts that he’s just drifted away from them apparently.

I also wasn’t thrilled with the ending to this after the central problem has been resolved. Back in 2011 Block released a new Scudder novel A Drop of the Hard Stuff as well as short story collection The Night & the Music that felt like the perfect goodbye. The story written just for that collection One Last Night at Grogan’s was especially fitting as Matt's swan song. Frankly, I found the conclusion here odd and off-putting, and it kinda spoiled that classy ending for me.

Still, it’s a new Matt Scudder story when I never thought I’d get another, and I am grateful to Lawrence Block for having him work one more case for us. I think in future rereads I’ll shift this around to still read One Last Night at Grogan’s as the last word from Matt.

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