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'Hope To Die' by Lawrence Block

Books in Brief

Thursday, November 01, 2001

By Michael Helfand


Hope To Die

By Lawrence Block



This 14th novel in mystery Grand Master Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series finds the formerly seedy, alcoholic private investigator boringly happy and prosperous.

Married to Elaine, a former call girl who invested wisely in real estate and the stock market, Scudder has nothing much to do until he reads about a vicious murder and robbery of a wealthy couple who attended the same fund-raising event as our happy couple.

The discovery, a few days later, of the bodies of two men (an apparent murder-suicide) who killed the couple quickly closes the case as far as the authorities are concerned.

But Scudder and his young street-wise assistant T.J. are troubled, first by questions raised by the murdered couple’s niece and then by details, such as a missing getaway car, that remain unexplained. Could there be a third killer?

And Scudder has other problems as well. Readers who know the series recall that Matt has an ex-wife and two children who have played no part in previous books. Here, however, the death of Scudder’s ex forces him to confront his responsibilities as a parent to his now-adult sons.

Block breaks with the form of previous Scudder stories when he introduces the voice of the very intelligent psychopath who masterminded all four killings. This arch-villain alternates with Scudder as narrator in the last half of the novel.

And even though we hear from “whodunit,” Block keeps us guessing about his identity until the very end. With the appearance of this cute and acute killer, Block’s novel re-enters the nightmarish atmosphere that made his earlier Scudder stories compelling and enormously popular reading experiences.

Matt’s back, but he is not, perhaps, the star of this particular parade.

The reviewer teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh.

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