In this short length debut of Matthew Scudder, prolific author Lawrence Block introduces a scene where Scudder is seen offering money to a police officer in exchange of information on a case Scudder is working. When the cop hesitates to take the money, Scudder deftly gives him a short but effective advice on why should he grab the money, and why him not taking the money might cause serious jeopardy to the his career. To that the cop replies that he guess he has a lot to learn. This scene told me first-hand that why Block is considered to be a class in crime writing, why Scudder stands apart from the pack of PIs working in the world of crime fiction, and lastly why a lot of “celebrated” crime writers has got a “lot to learn” from Block when it comes to crime writing.
My version of a perfect crime novel, this book incorporated everything that makes a particular book or a series successful. The book had pace, it had quality and when the ending came it was like coming down from a roller coaster ride which you have rode earlier but was equally enjoyable this time. As far as the plot goes, the whole concept was nothing new; in fact this same plot has been used over and over again. But, somehow Block turned this same old wine into something exotic by sheer speed, a hugely enjoyable and fascinating protagonist and by shedding any extra fact related to the plot, and presenting the whole book devoted to the crime and its solution. Not a single page was not somehow related to the plot. Not a single moment did it cross my mind to skip a page or a paragraph. Books like these never make into a top-100 lists or something like that, instead we get trash(disguised as highbrow crime fiction) listed in those lists.
And lastly, Matthew Scudder, a revelation. An ex-cop, who left the system after he got burnt in it. A PI without a license, a no-nonsense man with a streak of violence in him. A divorcee with two kids. The man could have just turned into another gloomy clichéd American PI. But, thanks to Block he doesn’t. How many protagonists do we have in this world of crime writing who tells a cop to accept money in return for information? Who tells a gay bar-owner to bribe the city police chief in order to make him raid his place and arrest the troublemakers, or drops two hundred dollars into church’s poor box? Not many, but Scudder does. This man along with Morse, Poirot and Millhone is sure to go to the top of my list of favourite protagonists.