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Eight Million Ways To Die: A Matthew Scudder…

Eight Million Ways To Die: A Matthew Scudder Mystery (original 1982; edition 1993)

by Lawrence Block

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Title:Eight Million Ways To Die: A Matthew Scudder Mystery
Authors:Lawrence Block
Info:Avon (1993), Mass Market Paperback, 10 pages
Collections:Your library

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Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block (1982)


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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Since I discovered Lawrence Block a few years ago I’ve read a lot of his novels and was a bit surprised to find I haven’t reviewed one yet. Eight Million Ways to Die is the fifth in the Matt Scudder series. It’s one of my favourites and the audiobook is narrated by the man himself!

I must admit I approached it with some trepidation. Which of us hasn’t sat through a live author reading on a hard seat with a fixed grin, as they mumble and shuffle their papers, longing for it to end so we can get to the bar? Often authors aren’t great performers and can’t project the music that’s in their head. In this case, though, Block did something more. His prose is very distinctive and he captured the rhythm and the downbeat mood just as I heard it in my head.

Scudder is a rootless former cop turned unlicensed investigator, living in a cheap motel. A prostitute called Kim wants to leave her pimp but is afraid to tell him, so she enlists Scudder’s help. The first thing Scudder has to do is find the enigmatic man, who is known only as Chance and appears to have no regular routine or social circle. When Kim is murdered, Scudder feels that he failed her and is determined to find her killer.

While the Scudder novels are firmly rooted in New York, many have a timeless quality to them. Often the only thing that reminds me they are not contemporary is the technology (in the early books Scudder spends a lot of time feeding dimes into payphones). Eight Million Ways to Die was first published in 1982 and it vividly portrays that period in New York’s history, when crime was out of hand, the news was full of senseless killings, and danger felt both ubiquitous and unavoidable.

Against this backdrop, Scudder is trying to fashion a new life for himself, one where he knows what is right and manages to do it. Drink and bars have always been a big part of Scudder’s story, but this is the first book in the series where he acknowledges his alcoholism.

At the centre of the crime and chaos of the city, the case and his attendance at AA give him a kind of structure and safety. The stories from the newspapers and from the people he questions in his investigation are interspersed with the stories from the people at AA meetings, though Scudder is not yet ready to share his own.

For me this is one of the most atmospheric Scudder novels and hearing it read by the author makes it even more special. It resonates today. The cacophony of headlines threatening to overwhelm Scudder are like the continual intrusive beeps and tweets of social media.

Scudder tells a man at AA that he is struggling to cope with all the bad news in the papers. The man suggests he just stops reading them.
This review first appeared on my blog katevane.com/blog ( )
  KateVane | Aug 7, 2018 |
This might be my favorite of the Scudder series. A typical one starts strong, with a re-introduction to the characters, careful observations of New York, and solid, human dialog. But then most of the stories fall a little flat halfway through, overcome by the bland, formulaic mystery plot. This stays strong throughout. The characters start strong, and continue developing all the way through, with Scudder struggling in particular with his alcoholism, but learning how to handle it. The plot also stays compelling, with a good mix of detective work (interview after interview) and action. (The mystery's resolution is telegraphed far in advance, but I didn't mind.) ( )
  breic | Apr 30, 2018 |
“Eight Million Ways To Die” is the fifth out of seventeen novels in Block’s Matthew Scudder series, which features one of the most unusual private eyes in detective fiction. Forget the porkpie hat, the tiny office, the breathless blonde secretary, and the guns blazing, action featured on every page kind of detective. That’s not Scudder’s world. Scudder was a former NYPD Officer, who after a shooting went bad, real bad, reconsidered what he was doing in this world, gave up his career, his family, his life and discovered the bottle. He now lives in a hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, treks from AA meeting to AA meeting, although passing whenever its his turn to share, and frequently stops in churches to light a candle and tithe. Sometimes he’s lucky to count eight days in a row sober. Sometimes he’s not. He still frequents the bars, but tries to get by on pieces of pie and coffee. He earns a living by doing favors since he is not a licensed private op. It is a dark, gloomy world Scudder lives in and he is climbing the walls of his tiny hotel room, trying not to focus on that next drink.

A friend of a friend needs a favor. Kim, a call girl, wants out of the life, where a man known only as “Chance” has set her up in an apartment and she gives him most of her earnings. There are five other girls he has on his leash, all similarly set up. Kim doesn’t quite explain why she wants out, but she is nervous about confronting Chance and wants Scudder to intercede. The only thing is Chance has no known address, no phone that he can be reached at, only an answering service and, if he doesn’t return your call, that’s your problem. Scudder intercedes and spends an evening at the fights and getting to know Chance, who represents that its not a problem. Kim can walk. She is easily replaceable. Plenty of other farm girls from Wisconsin. Not much work for a thousand dollar fee plus the bonus Kim confers upon Scudder, but the job is done or so he thinks until Kim ends up hacked to pieces in a hotel room the next night. Scudder gives Chance’s information to the police detective and tries to absolve his guilt for trusting this pimp, for allowing Kim to come to harm. It then gets really interesting when Chance offers to hire Scudder to find the real killer.

Scudder piece by piece works to put together little clues like a relentless bulldog that just won’t let go. On the way, he has moral quandaries about who to trust and what his real motives are. Is he being used by Chance to set up some kind of third-party culpability to mask what really happened or is there some psycho out there? It is not all black and white in Scudder’s world. There’s a lot of angst, a lot of grey areas, a lot of guilt.

Reading this after reading Block’s early works, it is easy to see how he has matured as a writer. It is dark, foreboding tale, but it is not a classic hardboiled detective story. It is some different kind of animal. But, even without gobs of action, the book is terrific, the pacing perfectly cadenced, and the conversations and actions feel authentic. ( )
  DaveWilde | Sep 22, 2017 |
In this hard-boiled detective novel, featuring Matthew Scudder as a retired cop now working as an unlicensed PI, he investigates the murder of a young prostitute. When you read a Block novel you know the crime and investigation will be complex, the characters fully developed, and the dialogue snappy. What really sets this series above the others in the genre is Scudder himself. He's a complicated guy who continues to fight his addictions and demons. The seedy and crime-ridden atmosphere of NYC in the early 80s is palpable and parts of the book reads like a social commentary of the times.

Interesting fact: The title is a take-off on an old tv series, The Naked City, in which each episode ends with the line, "There are eight million stories to tell in the naked city. This has been one of them." ( )
  janb37 | Feb 13, 2017 |
Another great episode in the Matthew Scudder series. This episode highlights Matt's struggle with alcoholism. This is probably the episode where Matt is the most likeable. The mystery element was good as well. I liked not knowing who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. The resolution seemed to come out of nowhere, but the clues were there if you read carefully. ( )
  jguidry | May 31, 2016 |
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The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world. -- Edgar Allan Poe
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Mark the Dwarf
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0380715732, Mass Market Paperback)

Nobody knows better than Matthew Scudder how far down a person can sink in this city. A young prostitute named Kim knew it also—and she wanted out. Maybe Kim didn't deserve the life fate had dealt her. She surely didn't deserve her death. The alcoholic ex-cop turned p.i. was supposed to protect her, but someone slashed her to ribbons on a crumbling New York City waterfront pier. Now finding Kim's killer will be Scudder's penance. But there are lethal secrets hiding in the slain hooker's past that are far dirtier than her trade. And there are many ways of dying in this cruel and dangerous town—some quick and brutal ... and some agonizingly slow.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:01 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Tormented by the slaying of the hooker who turned to him for help just before her death, cop-turned-private eye Matthew Scudder begins an investigation into the woman's past that reveals secrets that could be deadly for him.

(summary from another edition)

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