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The Devil Knows You're Dead by Lawrence…
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The Devil Knows You're Dead (1993)

by Lawrence Block

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One thing about the Matt Scudder books is that you'll learn a lot about AA and the relationship between an alcoholic and his mentor. This one in particular seems to have more about the different types of meetings, what transpires, and the sub-culture of alcoholics working to stay sober. Now, I'm not a drinker, being overly concerned with control, never wanting to cede what little gray matter I have to some external drug, so I have no way of knowing how accurate or what Block's history with AA might be, but it certainly rings true.

In this novel, our relationship to death also plays a significant role. Jan, an old friend of Matt's, has asked him to get her an untraceable gun so she can kill herself. She has pancreatic cancer and has been given less than a year to live and she doesn't want to go through the decline and pain of the illness. This leads to a long discussion between Matt and his mentor about death as another of God's design flaws.

The Scudder novels differ greatly from other PI novels where the hero can consume copious quantities of straight scotch and then thread a needle with great precision, a la Spenser (not true of Parker's Jesse Stone, however, whose career in L.A. homicide is destroyed by alcohol.) The true demon in the Scudder series is alcohol and Matt's constant battle with that scourge. Self-denial becomes a huge backdrop to his other actions when he falls off the wagon (A Stab in the Dark,) "maintenance drinking," he called it. By A Devil Knows You're Dead, Scudder is still wrestling with those temptations, and trying to deal with the death of his friend, but more successfully. It's noteworthy that his girlfriend, Elaine, is a hooker, another of society's outcasts, but who seems to have a more perspicacious view of the world than most others. Block has said in an interview that he wanted to see how Scudder would develop as a character if he stopped drinking. The Scudder series, I think, is his best in dealing with the dark impulses and pressures of society.

I've read a smattering of his other series: Ehrengraf is good if more light-hearted but consciously amoral; Keller is lots of fun but decidedly even more amoral; the Chip Harrison series never grabbed me, and Tanner often gets a little ridiculous even as he pokes fun at society. I love the Bernie Rhodenbarr series; they are quite amusing. How Block manages to juggle all these characters is marvelous and astonishing.
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  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
ereader ebook
  romsfuulynn | Apr 28, 2013 |
A large part of the appeal of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series has always (or at least from about the third novel onwards) been to follow the fate of its protagonist, his trying to survive without a regular job, his trying to come to terms with his past as a police officer, and chiefly his struggle with (and quite often succumbing to) his alcoholism.

But this is how it goes – you creat a recurring protagonist for your novels, give him a backstory, and, as no man is an island, some friends, some acquaintances and maybe an enemy or two. Then, likely a few novels into your series now, you have to show how your hero copes with history, how his past influences his present, maybe show he overcomes it. You have to keep track of what his friends and acquaintances are doing, maybe have an old enemy return. And as your hero keeps working on cases, there are new friends, new acquaintances, new enemies, all of which have to kept track of, too, while your hero continues to develop, maybe enters a relationship, wonders whether it might be something serious. You have a fairly long series now, ten, maybe eleven volumes, and as you write your most recent one you suddenly notice how your protagonist’s ongoing private life has so encroached on what was supposed to be the plot of your novel that it is taking up most of the space and the attention.

This is what I think happened to the Matthew Scudder series in its eleventh volume The Devil Knows You’re Dead – in all ten novels before this one, the crime plot was always placed firmly centre stage, with Scudder’s private life in the background, enhancing the main plot with depth and emotional resonance. In contrast, The Devil Knows You’re Dead is first and foremost about Matthew Scudder the man and his personal history, and as his job is working as an unlicenced private detective, there is some crime here, but it’s only taking place in the periphery – while you usually have a detective because a crime has been comitted, here you have a crime because the book happens to be about an detective.

Such a reversal of emphasis might have been a sure recipe for a boring, uninteresting novel – but Scudder is a fascinating character (and readers who have followed him through the series will have quite an emotional investment in him by now) and Block is an excellent writer who manages to pull this off with apparent effortlessness and keeps us interested^, making us care more about how things between Elaine and Scudder will turn out and what he will do about Jan than in who did or did not kill Glenn Holtzmann.

Block’s regard is as unflinching when it is directed on Scudder’s private life as when it is on the more public sphere of crime and punishment – not satisfied with his usual shorcomings – his alcoholism, his befriending a known and ruthless criminal, his dithering in his relationship with Elaine – Scudder in this volume adds infidelity to the list when begins an affair with a crime victim’s widow. Still, the reader (this reader at least) can’t help but like Scudder, for aren’t we all flawed somehow, and we’ve been together with him through so much, one can’t help but hope that he’ll get a grip on himself and do right by Elaine. And of course read the next book in the series, to find out whether he does.
  Larou | Feb 23, 2012 |
Unlicensed PI Matthew Scudder is hired by two clients with overlapping interests. One wants him to determine the innocence of his brother, a homeless man arrested for gunning down a successful lawyer at a payphone; the other, the lawyer’s widow, wants to find out more about her late husband’s private life. But Scudder’s real struggles involve a fatally-diagnosed ex, and the fears that lead him to vice and addiction.

Although less fantastic, Scudder’s New York City is no less an exotic setting for me (a non-New Yorker) than Discworld, with its familiar haunts and near-infinite geography, and the emerging and disappearing technology and trends of the eighties and nineties.

The Devil Knows You're Dead cover Many of the books thus far in the Scudder series hinge or touch on the dark side of human nature – ranging from serial killers and sexual perversion to the urge to lose oneself in violence or drink. While there have been many cringe-worthy moments, perhaps the most striking thing about the Scudder novels is its flawed protagonist. I don’t mean “flawed” in a hot-headed, mistake-making, or Greek tragedy sense of the word. I mean there are times when it’s horrifying to root for the main character. But I still do. So what if I don’t idolize Matt Scudder as one might do Philip Marlowe? Scudder (at least when he’s on a case) acts with a sense of purpose and narrates with a clear, frank voice. It’s refreshing to see series characters again or find new ones introduced, especially since Block lets characters in this series evolve. And examining the contradictions or compulsions that make me uncomfortable with their actions leads me to reflect on my own character and life.

It doesn’t hurt that Block really is a master craftsman. When I read a Matthew Scudder mystery, I find it hard to make time for anything else.

(cross-posted from http://librarianorama.wordpress.com)
1 vote tomlide | Mar 8, 2011 |
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Epigraph
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at you back
May you be in heaven an hour before
The Devil knows you're dead.
AN IRISH BLESSING
Dedication
In Memory of Sandra Kolb
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On the last Thursday in September, Lisa Holtzmann went shopping on Ninth Avenue.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038072023X, Mass Market Paperback)

A deranged derelict, a crazed Vietnam vet, has been arrested for gunning down successful young lawyer Glenn Holtzmann at a corner phone booth on Eleventh Avenue -- and the suspect's brother wants p.i. Matthew Scudder to prove the madman innocent. But Scudder's curiosity and dedication are leading him to dark, unexplored places in his own heart...and to passions and secrets that could destroy everything be loves.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:02 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Matt Scudder finds himself caught up in a web of deceit and treachery when he comes to the aid of a homeless man charged with the brutal death of a yuppie lawyer. As Matt investigates, he discovers the victim was a federal informant who may have been eliminated as an act of revenge.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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