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A Master On Top of His Craft: A Review of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

Lawrence Block is one among a very small number of true masters of crime fiction, and A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a delight to readers who really care about seeing the right words on the page.

Ex-cop and detective Matt Scudder, a favorite Block character with fifteen novels worth of cases behind him, has always had a problem with the hard stuff.  As I recall, many years back, in Eight Million Ways to Die, he used to like his whiskey “straight, just the way God made it.”  Now he’s been fighting the urge with mixed success for some time.  He’s in Alcoholics Anonymous, and has been seeing a lady friend named Jan, who is also sober, regularly on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.  When an acquaintance and AA member named Jack Ellery is murdered, Scudder is the natural one to begin an informal inquiry.

Scudder’s investigation is an elegant piece of plotting.  Victim, witnesses, informants, and suspects are all in the closed world of recovering Manhattan alcoholics.  People’s lives are lived within a geography and a schedule that consists of the Sober Today Group on Second Avenue and Eighty-Seventh Street, the midnight meeting at the Moravian church, Scudder’s regular meeting at St. Paul’s, the Commuters Special near Penn Station, the meeting near Grand Central. Scudder makes his way from lead to lead with the sure expertise of a seasoned cop covering his own turf. Of course he finds his man, but when he does, it doesn’t look easy—it looks like fate constructed by competence and persistence.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a wise and fascinating addition to the Matthew Scudder cannon.  It could not be more welcome, nor could it have been written with more understated craftsmanship.  The dialogue sounds exactly like things people say to each other, but it isn’t.  It’s better, quicker, smarter.  Read this book attentively.  It’s much more fun than taking lessons.

Thomas Perry was born in Tonawanda, New York in 1947. He received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1969 and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Rochester in 1974. He has worked as a park maintenance man, factory laborer, commercial fisherman, university administrator and teacher, and a writer and producer of prime time network television shows. He is the author of eighteen novels. He lives in Southern California.