Coming from a master of the crime novel, this book is a major disappointment. I am speaking here not of life itself, but of the world of the novel: All the Flowers are Dying shows what deplorable things may happen when a serial killer character controls his novelist, not the other way round.
This, the sixteenth Matthew Scudder novel, opens as a psychologist comes to a Virginia prison to visit a man condemned to death for the brutal murders of three young boys. Meanwhile, up in New York City, P.I. Matthew Scudder is now in his middle sixties and in semi-retirement. She's worried that the guy might be a serial killer or--even worse--married, and she wants Matt to check him out. Even worse, a serial killer from a previous case may have Matt and his wife, Elaine, dead in his sights. This book continues some unfinished business from the previous Scudder novel, Hope to Die, and it's great to see Matthew Scudder back in action.
As usual, Block delivered the goods and had me guessing, even though I knew who the killer was when I opened the book. While I had a pretty good idea Scudder wasn't going to die, who knew who the killer would be taking to the grave with him?
The melancholy nature of Scudder is one thing Ive always loved about this series, but I really noticed while rereading how it evolved as Matt grew older. I could nitpick this book and say that it seems almost to be more about the villain than Scudder with long sections spent on first person interludes in the killers head while Matt seems mostly reactive versus doing much to seek out the guy. In a weird way that works here because with an older Matt and a little ominous foreshadowing, it feels like the younger, quicker man has the advantage.
His words read like a meeting of two long-time friends over a cup of coffee. It's been a long career for Block, who began with dimestore crime novellas. What we have with this sixteenth edition in his Scudder series is a maturation of the often ham-fisted crime noir potboiler of yesteryear into a more earthy, human story. There is also a good deal of reality and graspable humanity, as well as repulsive inhumanity.
A Matt Scudder book that came perilously close to the "DNF" as soon as I discovered Block using a serial killer viewpoint. In fact, I feel Block missed the opportunity to be innovative with showing us more about Scudder's experience on the downside of a long life and the contrast between his emotional and economic states from beginning to end.
While there are still two books to follow (A Drop of The Hard Stuff / The Night & The Music), this is the final novel in the Scudder chronology. Im sad to see Scudder go but Block gives us a fitting ending to the series. I had asked Block in an interview last year if he had truly put the final nail in the Scudder saga and while he noted he had no immediate plans for future books, he has thought he was finished a few times in the past before ultimately returning to tell more stories.
This review contains spoilers that relate to the ending of the previous book in the Matt Scudder series, Hope to Die (book 15 in the series). I commented in my review of Hope to Die that I felt the descriptions of the murders included a degree of detail that I didnt think was necessary, and if anything I think that was even more the case with this book.
This book cannot be overlooked for all Matthew Scudder fans.
He has published in excess (oh, wretched excess!) of 100 books, and no end of short stories. The first time Lawrence Blocks name appeared in print was when his short story You Cant Lose was published in the February 1958 issue of Manhunt. The first book published under his own name was Mona (1961); it was reissued several times over the years, once as Sweet Slow Death. Hes also been honored with the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award from Mystery Ink magazine and the Edward D.