I owe bestselling author Lawrence Block a debt of thanks.
I’ve never met the man, other than some minimal interactions on Twitter, but he really helped me out this past week. A couple of weeks ago, I read a book called Out of the Ashes by William W. Johnstone, a prolific author my dad loves. Dad wanted me to read the book, and I put it off as long as I politely could.
Besides, I’m trying to read 52 novels this year, so there’s gonna be some filler in the list somewhere.
Out of the Ashes may be the worst-written book ever published on purpose. I know there have been some intentionally poor books published, but this isn’t like that. This is a book where the author was trying his best. (And I should know, as I’ve read several of Johnstone’s novels. I knew what I was getting into when I opened the cover.) It’s published by Pinnacle, an imprint of Kensington Publishing.
Someone should be shot for publishing that mess.
Anyway, after reading that tripe, I needed something good to wash the bad taste out of my mouth. I’ve been meaning to get into Block. I knew a lot about him, because he was a friend and occasional writing partner of Donald Westlake. Like Westlake, he’s prolific and funny, but can do hard-boiled very easily. I picked up four of his novels at a local thrift store (sorry, Mr. Block–no royalties from me just yet. But that’s going to change, and soon.) and set myself up with one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time.
A Ticket to the Boneyard was my first introduction to Matt Scudder, an alcoholic ex-cop who left the force due to a tragic accident. It was also my first real introduction (other than a few short stories about stamp-collecting hitman Keller) to Block’s work. And it was brilliant. By the time this book rolls around in the series, Scudder is in recovery, attending AA meetings like they’re going out of style. Block presents Scudder as a real person in recovery, as a man with weaknesses and foibles, as a man with a hard, cold streak twinned with an incredible sense of caring and devotion to his friends.
The book also features a villain who will haunt your dreams with his ruthless cunning and his willingness to do whatever it takes to wreak vengeance on Scudder for framing him and sending him to prison twelve years prior. Watching Scudder overcome his personal demons is as entertaining as watching him overcome James Leo Motley, a villain for the ages.
Brilliant, I tell you.
It was the kind of book I hated to see end. Even though Block did a great job of building suspense, I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. I was hungry enough for more that I’ve moved immediately on to another novel about Scudder, Time to Murder and Create.
I’ve nearly scrubbed the memory of that shitty novel by that shitty writer whats-his-name out of my brain, and I have Lawrence Block to thank for it.