Out on the Cutting Edge by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
And so begins the second phase of Matt Scudder.
Block had written about Matt trying to get sober in the mid-‘80s with 8 Million Ways to Die, and then he had done a flashback novel when Matt was still boozing during the ‘70s in When the Sacred Ginmill Closes so there’s been a pretty substantial gap in Matt’s timeline when this story starts up in 1989. (Thanks to winning an ARC of the upcoming A Drop of the Hard Stuff, I can report that Scudder fans will get some more info about what Matt was up to.)
Matt is over three years sober and has become a regular fixture at AA meetings. He still works as an unlicensed private detective and has been trying to track down a missing girl. With no leads in that case and without a steady girlfriend or the circle of bar buddies he used to hang with, Matt is a little bored and lonely. A former small time crook named Eddie approaches Matt after an AA meeting and asks if he would hear his fifth step, a confession of the things that he feels badly about it. Matt agrees, but then doesn’t hear from Eddie. When he goes looking for him, Matt finds Eddie dead under odd circumstances. Was it an accident or murder?
Matt meets a couple of new friends in this one. The first is a woman that he starts dating and likes very much, but he’s quietly conflicted about her drinking. The second is a man who will become a very important figure in the Scudder series: Mick Ballou. (Oddly, he’s called Mickey in this first one. I always remember him as being referred to as Mick.)
Ballou is a bigger than life Irish gangster who likes to wear his father’s old butcher apron to an early mass in the meat district of New York, and it’s probably best that you not ask him about any fresh stains you see on it. Mick also may or may not have once carried an enemy’s head around in a bowling bag while he was bar hopping. Oddly, the hard drinking criminal and the alcoholic ex-cop feel a kinship, and this one hints at the long friendship that eventually develops between the two.
Matt’s life without drinking and the introduction of Ballou mark this as a change to the series, but it’s still the same incredibly well-written account of a low-key but complicated detective.
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