Friday, June 5, 2009

What I'm Reading: Lawrence Block's "A Dance at the Slaughterhouse"

Lawrence Block has, to date, written 16 novels featuring ex-New York City police officer and unofficial Private Investigator Matt Scudder. Based on recent comments by Block, it's possible that there won't be any Scudder novels (or, for that matter, any other Lawrence Block novels) soon, if ever.

Then again, this wouldn't be the first time that Block thought he was done with Scudder, only to find out that he had more to say about the character. After the first five books (three paperback originals and two hardbacks), ending with the dynamite Eight Million Ways to Die, the character's arc initially seemed complete. After that, there was only one new Scudder novel in a seven-year stretch and that one (When the Sacred Ginmill Closes) was a flashback novel.

Then, in 1989, Block brought Scudder back with a vengeance. Every year from 1989 through 1994, there was a new novel featuring the character. A Dance at the Slaughterhouse falls in the middle of that run, coming out in 1991. As the 9th Scudder novel, it also falls right in what may prove to be the middle of the overall series.

While Eight Million Ways to Die is my favorite Lawrence Block novel, and one of my favorite books, period, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse may be the quintessential Matthew Scudder novel. The major characters which show up (and, sometimes, depart) throughout the series are virtually all in evidence here. The New York City millieu may not be drawn quite as strongly as in some of the other books, but the City is still a strong presence. The grit and grime are out in full force. (The cover photo shown here hints at one of the main plot elements. There are no "cheerful" Matthew Scudder novels, but this one is one of the more-intense in the series.)

If someone was looking to get a good sense of the overall arc of this series, they'd be hard pressed to choose a better title than A Dance at the Slaughterhouse.

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