A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block – Book Review

A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block starts with Matthew Scudder revisiting an early case in his career as a private investigator. Newly sober and just released from his position in the NYPD following the accidental shooting death of an innocent bystander. While attending AA meetings, and in the midst of the stagnation of his current relationship, Scudder becomes re-acquainted with former classmate Jack Ellery, a man who took the opposite path and became a career criminal. When Ellery is murdered, Scudder investigates at the requests of Jack’s AA sponsor and friend.

Though there was a lot I enjoyed about this book, I did have some mixed feelings about it. This is my first time reading a Lawrence Block novel, and I would like to read another. Block has a distinct and detailed style which immerses the reader into the surroundings and habits of his characters. At all times, I felt like I was a fly on the wall of Scudder’s world and I love that feeling (or I normally would have), but here it was a bit problematic because of my lack of history with Scudder. This is the 17th book in the series, and while I liked the writing, this is not the one to ease into as a new reader.

Scudder is early into his sobriety, and a lot of the novel was concerned with detailing his program, examining AA history and sayings, meeting attendance and just how faithfully Scudder has to cling to his program and work his twelve steps. There isn’t much here that allows the reader a glimpse of who Scudder is later in life (which make up earlier books), so I didn’t feel like I was getting much insight into the way that he developed or reasons that he turned out the way he did. I did get way too much AA, so much so that I felt like the book was more a psychological study of Scudder and his sobriety than to him solving Ellery’s murder.

While the AA bits proved tedious, the case he was working was interesting, and provided unanticipated twists along the way. I’m rarely truly surprised with murder and mystery- there is usually an inkling of something somewhere- but I was in the dark for most of this one. Block is a great writer and has the kind of depth in characterization that I appreciate in crime novels. I will definitely read other Scudder novels, because I can clearly see the appeal – the writing is excellent. I doubt if I will read all seventeen books in the series, but I will ask around for a better entry point into these books.

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  1. I think if I ever do find it, I will start with the first book in the series. The author sounds really good at building mysteries.

    1. That’s tough sometimes when there are so many. I think these will be really good books. Just need an easier spot to get into them.

  2. I’ve read three or four Scudder mysteries (basically everything my library had of this series in audio), and I’ve read a number of the Lawrence Block “Burglar” series as well, which are precious. (Antiquarian book seller by daY, cat burglar by night, but only robs those who deserve it! ha!) I’m going to see if the library carries this one on audio. I like Scudder. He is rough around the edges and has some big issues, but is just full of it, and I love that.

    1. I think I will enjoy his books. I think certain books are more accesible to get into a series that other. I think a lot of this one banks on the reader already knowing what he’s like and getting the opportunity to see how he got that way. What book would you recommend to start.

  3. I really like Lawrence Block, but I haven’t yet read this one. Actually, I was listening to the various Block books, instead of reading them. I think I can imagine how the AAA stuff could get tedious — especially when there is a crime to solve.

    1. If you have any interest in a realistic depiction the AA experience, there is a lot of detail in this book. And it seems to be authentic from the scant knowledge I have on AA.

  4. I find it really hard to get invested in a series starting at the middle and end, unless the books are totally made to standalone, which doesn’t sound like happened with this book. I think I might have also gotten a little irritated with all the AA banter and things like that, which is too bad, because the mystery sounds intriguing to me. I am sorry this one wasn’t a more stellar read for you, but will be interested to hear if you do go ahead and read another in this series.

    1. It’s odd because the book itself actually did stand alone. You ddidn’t really need to kbow anything other than waht you knew in the story, but it’s almost as if the character couldn’t quite stand alone. He must be much different after so many year of sobriety. It would have shaped him. I just think if there had been less AA and more crime novel I would have had any complaints.

  5. I cannot imagine jumping into a series at the 17th book! It gets my heart fluttering as I’m a bit OCD about reading books in order. πŸ™‚

    1. Well, when there are so many books, I just hop right in. Were there only three or four, I definitely probably would have just started at the beginning.

  6. I really like the Matthew Scudder series. I’ve read about 10 of them. If I had to pick a good place to start that wasn’t the beginning I’d say book 5, Eight Million Ways to Die, or 6, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. Both give you a good sense of who Scudder was before he joined AA. Those are two of my favorites.