One of my late Christmas presents came early yesterday.
Maybe I’d better explain. One of the top items on my Christmas list was A Time to Scatter Stones, Lawrence Block’s latest (and likely final) installment in Matt Scudder’s multi-volume, fictive autobiography. However, the book isn’t due for release until 31 January, so Santa had to place an advance order. And that’s fine — appetite makes a wonderful sauce after all, and the small taste Mr. B allowed us at Bouchercon’s Noir at the Bar a few months back let me know that this was a repast worth waiting for.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to find an e-mail from LB after lunch, with an advance/review e-copy of ATtSS attached. After making a quick transfer to my trusty Kindle (already charged up, as it happens), I parked myself in my favorite chair and got rolling.
Like most of us, but unlike many of his peers in the crime fiction business, Mr. Scudder ages in real time, and since he’s essentially a contemporary of Mr. Block, that puts him somewhere around age 80. He is enjoying retirement with his wife Elaine, who has in turn retired from careers as a shop owner and call girl. They enjoy dinners, walk around Manhattan, visit old friends (like Mick Ballou and his new wife), and go to meetings.
Yes, Matt still goes to his AA meetings:
Whenever anyone expresses surprise over my continuing attendance at AA meetings, I think of the shampoo commercial:
“You use Head & Shoulders? But you don’t have dandruff.”
And Elaine has recently begun attending meetings of her own — a group called the Tarts, made up of women who have left (or are trying to leave) the prostitution business. At one such meeting, she meets a young woman who is trying to get out of the life, but who has a client who won’t take no for an answer. It falls to Matt to employ his particular skill set and dissuade the client.
But as we’ve noted, Matt is older, and the world around him has changed. Many of the sources and people on whom he used to rely have retired, died, or in the case of Matt’s sidekick/adopted son TJ (now around 40 himself), have moved on to other lives. Still, he has his native talents and considerable resourcefulness, even if his knee troubles him from time to time. Watching him bring them to bear once again is a pleasure.
But honestly, the detection in this story is secondary to the satisfaction of hearing once again from characters who have become friends and neighbors, despite living both in imagination and in another city (well, a city other than Mondoville, anyway.) Block retains his gift for dialogue and narrative voice, and while there’s an inevitable amount of ou sont les neiges to the story, it also has considerable humor and, yes, sexiness too. (Although I’m considerably younger than Matthew Scudder, I find cause for optimism in that aspect of the story.)
So if this is our final visit with the Scudders (as one must suspect, and as Mr. Block has implied), we can leave them with satisfaction, knowing that they are content and thinking we must be as well. It may be a final story, but unlike the mythical Travis McGee finale, no black border is required.
As for me, although I remain excited about my late Christmas gift, it was a pleasure to open it early. You may order your own copy here.