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The Lineup: Weekly Links

Contrasted ConfinementNick Santora’s new novel FIFTEEN DIGITS was recently reviewed in The Hollywood Reporter, which proclaimed the novel “a propulsive thriller that hurtles along to a brutal and–trust me–very unexpected conclusion.” Nick’s novel was also reviewed in the Washington Post, with reviewer Steve Donoghue writing: Santora expertly ratchets up the tension….Readers will be mighty entertained.” LA Weekly also has a great interview with Nick, and touts the novel as “a mix of Dennis Lehane and Scott Turow.”

In other news, Lawrence Block’s much-acclaimed return to Matthew Scudder A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF was just awarded a Spinetingler Award for Best Novel in the Legend category. Congrats Larry!

A new section of our social writing project Triggers Down is up…

And Nick put together this absolutely incredible short film of the first scene in FIFTEEN DIGITS with a little help from a few of his friends–check it out below! Now THAT’S what we call a book trailer! Fullscreen it–you won’t be disappointed.

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch at mulhollandbooks@hbgusa.com or DM us on Twitter.

Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff

Missed out on the“totally gripping….Great American Crime Novel” (Time) the first time around? Now’s your chance! A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF is now available in paperback. An excerpt from the novel follows:

LATE ONE NIGHT . . .

“I’ve often wondered,” Mick Ballou said, ” how it would all have gone if I’d taken a different turn.”

We were at Grogan’s Open House, the Hell’s Kitchen saloon he’s owned and operated for years. The gentrification of the neighborhood has had its effect on Grogan’s, although the bar hasn’t changed much inside or out. But the local hard cases have mostly died or moved on, and the crowd these days is a gentler and more refined bunch. There’s Guinness on draft, and a good selection of single-malt Scotches and other premium whiskeys. But it’s the joint’s raffish reputation that draws them. They get to point out the bullet holes in the walls, and tell stories about the notorious past of the bar’s owner. Some of the stories are true.

They were all gone now. The barman had closed up, and the chairs were on top of the tables so they’d be out of the way when the kid came in at daybreak to sweep up and mop the floor. The door was locked, and all the lights out but the leaded-glass fixture over the table where we sat with our Waterford tumblers. There was whiskey in Mick’s, club soda in mine. Continue reading “Start reading A Drop of the Hard Stuff”

A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I

Two months ago, Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg met in San Francisco for an epic conversation that spanned nearly every topic imaginable…and far more. Mulholland Books has transcribed the dialogue between these two masters of storytelling and will present it to you in two parts.

Lawrence Block: How did a nice fellow like you get into this business?

Robert Silverberg: When I went to college, I went to Columbia.  I lived in Brooklyn and my first year at Columbia, I had to commute to Upper Manhattan to get to college and I saw working people on the subway with me, riding, riding, riding.  And I thought if I get into this business, I can stay home when I work.  I don’t have to do that.

LB: That does incentivize a person, you know.

RS: And I’ve never worked for anyone else.  I worked at home as a professional writer for the last (When did I graduate? 1956) for the last 54 1/2 years and that’s because I didn’t want to be riding the subway.  What’s your excuse?

LB: Well, I had the good sense to get tossed out of college, so I didn’t have anything to fall back on.  And you know, that’s just as well.  Because there were some times when if I had had something to fall back on, I would have.

RS: What college did you get tossed out of?

LB: Antioch.

RS: Oh, very classy.

LB: It’s tough to get tossed out of Antioch.

RS: It’s one of the best to get tossed out of.

LB: What happened was I went down there for two years.  And after the second year, they have a work study program there and instead of taking one of the jobs that the school had on offer for that semester, that term I went off and found a job. And the job I found was at Scott Meredith.

RS: You better explain.  Tell them who Scott Meredith-

LB: He was a literary agent.  Well—

RS: My literary agent.

LB: A sort of literary agent. Um-

RS: He wasn’t very literary, but he sure was an agent.

LB: Yes, yes, he had that part covered.  And I got a job there as an editor and my job was to read the manuscripts submitted by hopeful writers who paid a fee to have their manuscript read by Scott personally and get a response from him.  And I would write the letter and it would be one-and-a-half single-spaced pages, a long letter they got for their money, and it would come with their manuscript, which was returned, and it would say, essentially, “There were things wrong with this story which cannot be fixed because it is the plot that is at fault, but you are actually a superb writer and we hope you’ll be sending future stories to us, each, of course, accompanied by a fee.”  And it was the best school for a young writer that there could possibly be.  You can’t learn that much by reading wonderful work.  You can learn a tremendous amount by reading things that don’t work.  So it was a great education.  Aside from that the only honest work I’ve ever done was a couple of years later when I took an editorial job in Wisconsin because I had had a falling out with Scott and a lot my markets suddenly were closed to me.

RS: He did control a lot of markets.

LB: Indeed.  But you started out writing science fiction from the very beginning?

Continue reading “A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I”

Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen

Blank TVIn the opening pages of A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Scudder mentions that his friend Mick Ballou is married now, to a much younger woman named Kristin Hollander.  Readers may recall Kristin from Hope to Die and All the Flowers Are Dying, but her relationship with Mick may come as news to them.  It was in fact noted in a vignette I wrote a couple of years ago, “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen,” but that was written for a limited-edition broadside published by Mark Lavendier; it sold out in a hurry.

I expect I’ll tuck it into my next collection of short fiction.  But in the meantime I thought some of y’all might like a look at it:

MICK BALLOU LOOKS AT THE BLANK SCREEN

“At first,” Mick Ballou said, “I thought the same as everyone else in the country.  I thought the fucking cable went out.”

We were at Grogan’s, the Hell’s Kitchen saloon he owns and frequents, and he was talking about the final episode of The Sopranos, which ended abruptly with the screen going blank and staying that way for ten or fifteen seconds.

“And then I thought, well, they couldn’t think of an ending.  But Kristin recalled the time Tony and Bobby were talking of death, and what it would be like, and that you wouldn’t even know it when it happened to you.  So that was the ending, then.  Tony dies, and doesn’t even know it.”

It was late on a weekday night, and the closemouthed bartender had already shooed the last of the customers out of the place and put the chairs up on the tables, where they’d be out of the way when someone else mopped the floor in the morning.  I’d been out late myself, speaking at an AA meeting in Marine Park, then stopping for coffee on the way home.  Elaine met me with a message:  Mick had called, and could I meet him around two?

There was a time when most of our evenings started around that time, with him drinking twelve-year-old Jameson while I kept him company with coffee or Coke or water.  We’d go until dawn, and then he’d drag me down to St. Bernard’s on West 14th Street for the butchers’ mass.  Nowadays our evenings started and ended earlier, and there weren’t enough butchers in the gentrified Meat Market district to fill out a mass, and anyway St. Bernard’s itself had given up the ghost, and was now Our Lady of Guadalupe.

And we were older, Mick and I.  We got tired and went home to bed.

And now he’d summoned me to discuss the ending of a television series.

He said, “What do you think happens?”

“You’re not talking about tv.”

He shook his head.  “Life.  Or the end of it.  Is that what it is?  A blank screen?”

I talked about near death experiences, all of them remarkably similar, with the consciousness hovering in midair and being invited to go to the light, then making the decision to return to the body.  “But there’s not a lot of eyewitness testimony,” I said, “from the ones who go to the light.”

Continue reading “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen”

The Writing of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

An abbreviated version of the following essay appeared on Amazon’s Kindle Daily blog. We thought our dedicated readers might want a look at Block’s words in full. Enjoy!

I was afraid I might be done writing about Matthew Scudder.

I’d certainly spent enough years in his company.  From 1975’sThe Sins of the Fathers all the way to All the Flowers are Dying in 2005, I’d written sixteen Matthew Scudder novels, along with a handful of short stories.  And, because the fellow has aged in real time throughout the series, he’s now reached and passed the biblical high water mark of three score years and ten.  Even if you’re optimistic enough to argue that 72 is the new 71, the fellow’s still a little old to be leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

Now I should point out that this was not the first time I thought Scudder and I were done with each other.  In the fifth book, Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), the fellow confronted his alcoholism and, not without difficulty, chose sobriety.  That was all well and good for him, but I figured I’d written myself out of a job.  The man had undergone a catharsis, he’d confronted the central problem of his existence, so what was left to say about him?  His d’etre, you might say, had lost its raison, and I’d be well advised to go write about somebody else. Continue reading “The Writing of A Drop of the Hard Stuff”

Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part II)

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, which has been called “the perfect introduction to Scudder’s shadow-strewn world and the pleasures of Block’s crisp yet brooding prose” (Time), “a book right up there with Mr. Block’s best” (Wall Street Journal) and “as rich and rewarding as it is devastating” (Pulp Serenade). To read an interview with the man himself, visit Ransom Notes.  we present part two of a Matthew Scudder short story by the Grandmaster himself. (If you missed Part I, start reading here.)

“There are a couple of problems,” I told them.  “A couple of things that could pop up like a red flag for a responding officer or a medical examiner.”

“Like. . .”

“Like the knife,” I said.  “Phil opened the door and the killer stabbed him once and left, was out the door and down the stairs before the body hit the carpet.”

“Maybe not that fast,” one of them said, “but it was pretty quick.  Before we knew what had happened, certainly.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, “but the thing is it’s an unusual MO.  The killer didn’t take time to make sure his victim was dead, and you can’t take that for granted when you stick a knife in someone.  And he left the knife in the wound.”

“He wouldn’t do that?”

“Well, it might be traced to him.  All he has to do to avoid that chance is take it away with him.  Besides, it’s a weapon. 
Suppose someone comes chasing after him?  He might need that knife again.”

“Maybe he panicked.”

“Maybe he did,” I agreed.  “There’s another thing, and a medical examiner would notice this if a reporting officer didn’t.  The body’s been moved.”

Interesting the way their eyes jumped all over the place.  They looked at each other, they looked at me, they looked at Phil on the floor.

“Blood pools in a  corpse,” I said.  “Lividity’s the word they use for it.  It looks to me as though Phil fell forward andTeeth wound up face downward.  He probably fell against the door as it was closing, and slid down and wound up on his face.  So you couldn’t get the door open, and you needed to, so eventually you moved him.”

Eyes darted.  The host, the one in the blazer, said, “We knew you’d have to come in.”

“Right.”

“And we couldn’t have him lying against the door.”

“Of course not,” I agreed.  “But all of that’s going to be hard to explain.  You didn’t call the cops right away, and you did move the body.  They’ll have some questions for you.”

Continue reading “Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part II)”

Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part I)

J. W. Dant Whiskey BottleIn our ongoing celebration of the publication of A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, we present a Matthew Scudder short story by the Grandmaster himself.

When the phone call came I was parked in front of the television set in the front room, nursing a glass of bourbon and watching the Yankees.  It’s funny what you remember and what you don’t.  I remember that Thurman Munson had just hit a long foul that missed being a home run by no more than a foot, but I don’t remember who they were playing, or even what kind of a season they had that year.

I remember that the bourbon was J. W. Dant, and that I was drinking it on the rocks, but of course I would remember that.  I always remembered what I was drinking, though I didn’t always remember why.

The boys had stayed up to watch the opening innings with me, but tomorrow was a school day, and Anita took them upstairs and tucked them in while I freshened my drink and sat down again.  The ice was mostly melted by the time Munson hit his long foul, and I was still shaking my head at that when the phone rang.  I let it ring, and Anita answered it and came in to tell me it was for me.  Somebody’s secretary, she said.

I picked up the phone, and a woman’s voice, crisply professional, said, “Mr. Scudder, I’m calling for Mr. Alan Herdig of Herdig and Crowell.”

“I see,” I said, and listened while she elaborated, and estimated just how much time it would take me to get to their offices.  I hung up and made a face.

“You have to go in?”

I nodded.  “It’s about time we had a break in this one,” I said.  “I don’t expect to get much sleep tonight, and I’ve got a court appearance tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll get you a clean shirt.  Sit down.  You’ve got time to finish your drink, don’t you?”

I always had time for that.

Continue reading “Let’s Get Lost: A Matthew Scudder Story (Part I)”

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.

Chapter 2 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

Continue reading A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF which hits bookstores on May 12th. Missed the Prologue? or Chapter 1? Read them first.

II

WE SAT ACROSS from each other in a booth in a diner on Twenty-third Street. He took his coffee with a lot of cream and sugar. Mine was black. The only thing I ever put in it was bourbon, and I didn’t do that anymore.

He remarked again on my having recognized him, and I said it worked both ways, he’d recognized me. “Well, you said your name,” he said. “When you gave your day count. You’ll be coming up on ninety pretty soon.”

Ninety days is a sort of probationary period. When you’ve been clean and dry for ninety days, you’re allowed to tell your story at a meeting, and to hold various group offices and service positions. And you can stop raising your hand and telling the world how many days you’ve got.

He’d been sober sixteen months. “That year,” he said. “I had a year the last day of September. I never thought I’d make that year.”

“They say it’s tough right before an anniversary.”

“Oh, it wasn’t any more difficult then. But, see, I more or less took it for granted that a year of sobriety was an impossible accomplishment. That nobody stayed sober that long. Now my sponsor’s sober almost six years, and there’s enough people in my home group with ten, fifteen, twenty years, and it’s not like I pegged them as liars. I just thought I was a different kind of animal, and for me it had to be impossible. Did your old man drink?”

“That was the other secret of his success.”

“Mine too. In fact he died of it. It was just a couple of years ago, and what gets me is he died alone. His liver went on him. My ma was gone already, she had cancer, so he was alone in the world, and I couldn’t be at his bedside where I belonged because I was upstate. So he died in a bed all by himself. Man, that’s gonna be one tough amends to make, you know?”

Continue reading “Chapter 2 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff”

Chapter 1 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

Continue reading A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF which hits bookstores on May 12th. Missed the Prologue? Start reading here.

I

I COULDN’T TELL YOU the first time I saw Jack Ellery, but it would have to have been during the couple of years I spent in the Bronx. We were a class apart at the same grammar school, so I’d have seen him in the halls or outside at recess, or playing stickball or stoopball after school let out. We got to know each other well enough to call each other by our last names, in the curious manner of boys. If you’d asked me then about Jack Ellery, I’d have said he was all right, and I suppose he’d have said the same about me. But that’s as much as either of us would have been likely to say, because that’s as well as we knew each other.

Then my father’s business tailed off and he closed the store and we moved, and I didn’t see Jack Ellery again for more than twenty years. I thought he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him right away. I don’t know whether he would have recognized me, because he didn’t get to see me. I was looking at him through one-way glass.

This would have been in 1970 or ’71. I’d had my gold shield for a couple of years, and I was a detective assigned to the Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village when the prewar building on Charles Street still served as the station house. It wasn’t long after that they moved us to new quarters on West Tenth, and some enterprising fellow bought our old house and turned it into a co-op or condo, and tipped his hat to history by calling it Le Gendarme.

Years later, when One Police Plaza went up, they did essentially the same thing with the old police headquarters on Centre Street.

Continue reading “Chapter 1 of A Drop of the Hard Stuff”