A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF

Written by Lawrence Block

Review written by Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of 22 crime and spy thrillers. His next book ‘Rocco and the Nightingale’ (The Dome Press), the fifth in his French police series set in Picardie in the 1960s, is out on 19 October 2017 More information https://www.adrianmagson.com/


A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF
Orion Books
RRP: £12.99
Released: 1st September 2011
Hbk

In Lawrence Block’s latest offering, we find Matt Scudder looking back on his life. Now retired from the police and everything else – even his stint as a non-licensed PI after quitting the police - he is musing with an old buddy on how people from similar backgrounds can take very different paths through life. One person in particular is Jack Ellery. Although never friends, and on opposite sides of the law, he and Jack had one thing in common: a serious and life-affecting addiction to alcohol.

 

Something else they shared was a commitment to join Alcoholics Anonymous and take the prescribed steps in the programme towards recovery. Sadly for Jack, who was at Step Nine, which includes making amends to people one has wronged, someone out there seems to have harboured the bite of remembered hurts – and Jack ends up with a bullet in his head and one in his mouth.

 

To Scudder the ex-cop, this smacks more of wanting to silence someone – and send a message - than simply getting revenge.

 

Persuaded by a fellow recovering alcoholic and sponsor to look into the murder, he sets out to find who was on the long list of people Ellery had hurt, reckoning that one of them must be the guilty part. At the same time, he keeps up his regular attendance at AA meetings around the area, determined to reach his anniversary of one year ‘dry’.

 

The story is a good one, and intriguing, with a believable cast of quirky and mostly sad characters, also mostly recovering drunks or those on the path to failure. And in terms of atmosphere and background, it has plenty of both.

 

For me, however, it ultimately became a long, slow and melancholy journey through an old man’s recent life, disconnected never-quite-friends and past sins, as much Scudder’s story as Ellery’s, with every page drenched in the fug of stale booze, sad AA meetings and remembered drinking joints… and only a vague sense of any kind of future.

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