Books by Lawrence Block

Released: Feb. 29, 2020

"Fences pay burglars pennies on the dollar. Hungry fans will devour this skimpy opus despite the absence of new material."
Bittersweet news for fans who've missed Bernie Rhodenbarr even since The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (2013): Everyone's favorite bookseller/burglar is back for a 12th, and presumably final, volume, which is not a novel but a collection of short pieces. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 6, 2016

"This strong collection begins in a spirit of homage but winds up showing how powerful inspiration can be."
Edward Hopper, the painter of American loneliness, inspires a selection of short stories from a host of notable writers. Read full book review >
SINNER MAN by Lawrence Block
Released: Nov. 8, 2016

"Block telegraphs every single plot twist shortly before it arrives, and the results are pulpy, ritualistic, and satisfying—a guilty pleasure packed into a time capsule from 1960."
Fans impatient for the latest from prolific Block (The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, 2015, etc.) will rejoice at the rediscovery of his very first novel, first published in 1968, eight years after he finished writing it, as Savage Lover.Read full book review >
HIT ME by Lawrence Block
Released: Feb. 12, 2013

"As usual, the most perceptive insights here depend on the interplay between what's said—endless discussions of early postal variations—and what's pointedly left unsaid time after time."
After a full-length novel starring John P. Keller (Hit and Run, 2008), Block retreats to the form he prefers for his peripatetic hit man's outings (Hit Parade, 2006, etc.): a cycle of loosely linked stories. Read full book review >
A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block
Released: May 12, 2011

"Sure, Block's written stronger mysteries. But this lonesome, wintry, compassionate tale is guaranteed to get under your skin, and make you thirsty to boot."
Matthew Scudder looks back at his first year off the sauce to recall that making amends can be murder. Read full book review >
STEP BY STEP by Lawrence Block
Released: June 1, 2009

"A peripatetic but never pedestrian memoir."
The prolific crime novelist (Hit and Run, 2008, etc.) writes about his adventures as a racewalker. Read full book review >
HIT AND RUN by Lawrence Block
Released: June 24, 2008

From the first, Keller assumes this hit will be his last case. Readers can only hope it isn't so. Read full book review >
HIT PARADE by Lawrence Block
Released: July 4, 2006

"Most of the stories don't expand the territory mapped out in Hit Man (1998) and Hit List (2000). But one of them, in which Keller is hired to kill a dog and ends up killing four people along the way, is worth the price of admission."
Hit man John Keller, the pro's pro, returns in a volume that makes gestures toward being a novel but is mostly a cycle of ten stories, half of them reprints. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2005

"Another powerful meditation on mortality in thriller's clothing. As Scudder puts it, 'There's always another funeral to go to. They're like buses.' "
For Matthew Scudder's 16th case, and his first in three years, Block borrows the time-honored pattern of the sleuth whose hearth and home are menaced by a killer from his past. Read full book review >
BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS by Lawrence Block
Released: July 1, 2003

"No drop-dead entrée, but something worth a nibble on almost every plate that passes."
The latest anthology from the Mystery Writers of America serves up 19 murderous new morsels. Read full book review >
SMALL TOWN by Lawrence Block
Released: Feb. 1, 2003

"'We're all in the same boat,' an unwitting accomplice tells the Carpenter. But can these isolated individuals barely aware of each other's existence pull together to defeat a madman? It's an excellent question for us all."
A New Yorker devastated by the bombing of the Twin Towers goes on a methodical rampage of his own in this haunting valentine to the Big Apple. Read full book review >
ENOUGH ROPE by Lawrence Block
Released: Aug. 1, 2002

"Do all the folks who bought the Collected Mystery Stories need to refresh their libraries with this update? Probably not. But true-blue mystery fans would be crazy to pass it up—except for those determined to hold out for a future collection that tops a thousand pages."
Most authors who'd just published a 754-page Collected Mystery Stories two years ago would still be catching their breath. Not Block, who here collects 83 crime tales in a package as bulky as a pair of bricks. In addition to all the stories in his 2000 retrospective—everything from the collections Sometimes They Bite (1983), Like a Lamb to the Slaughter (1984), and Some Days You Get the Bear (1993), and a brace of stories featuring ebullient burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, alcoholic sometime lawyer Matthew Scudder, courtroom-averse lawyer Martin Ehrengraf, Archie Goodwin wannabe Chip Harrison, and hit man John Keller—Block adds a dozen previously uncollected items: not quite as many as his Introduction would suggest, but still a substantial bunch. The newcomers include two Keller stories (one excerpted from the novel Hit List, 2000), two cases from Scudder's distant past, a typically lightweight Ehrengraf entry, half a dozen new stories—none of them remarkable, but all with the professional snap of Block's best work—and the author's very first story, showing that if in 1957 he hadn't mastered the ironic reversals that would become a hallmark of his short fiction, he was already well on his way to mastering the laconic, offhand voice that would make the dozen standouts here, from "Keller's Therapy" to "In for a Penny," so witty and so dark. Read full book review >
HOPE TO DIE by Lawrence Block
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"Second-drawer Scudder is still Scudder, but despite the high body count, this battle of wits lacks the somber view of mortality that makes his best work so powerful—right down to the final chapter, which strongly hints at a rematch."
Arriving home at their Upper West Side brownstone from the opening concert in the Mostly Mozart series, attorney Byrne Hollander and his writer wife Susan encounter a pair of burglars who leave them dead. It's the most commonplace sort of murder imaginable, and everybody's more than ready to call it closed when forensic evidence implicates a pair of skells found dead in a rundown Brooklyn apartment—everybody, that is, but once-again-unlicensed private eye Matthew Scudder. Maybe Scudder's brooding too much because his ex-wife just died, but there's something about the case that whispers setup to him. His assistant TJ—whose Columbia classmate Lia Parkman, Susan's niece, wonders whether the Hollanders' daughter and wealthy heiress Kristin mightn't have had them killed—eggs him on, and soon he's turned up not only some telltale loose ends in the tightly wound skein of evidence against the late Carl Ivanko and Jason Bierman, but a paying client: Kristin Hollander, who's reached pretty much the same conclusion as her cousin, though not of course down to identifying the same perp. Continuing to ask questions even as the killer realizes he's under suspicion, Scudder unearths a plot as diabolical as it is far-fetched, and a lot less resonant than the nefarious schemes of Even the Wicked (1997) and Everybody Dies (1998). Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 10, 2001

"Proof that virtually any short story qualifies as a mystery if you want to read it that way."
The headline news in the fourth installment of this annual series (interrupted last year by The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century) is the relative absence of headliners; even editor Block admits that before reading their entries, he'd never heard of two-thirds of the contributors. Newcomers to the mystery fold include Thomas Lynch (the sad backstory of a young woman killed by her husband), Michael Downs (a prison cook worries about the violence growing in her son as she prepares a convict's last meal), Nathan Walpow (a bullying pro wrestler gets his), John Salter (the harrowing world of a Paiute prostitute), and Roxana Robinson (who doesn't think her reminiscence of Central American terrorism qualifies as a crime story). Despite contributions by such genre stalwarts as Peter Robinson, Clark Howard, Bill Pronzini, Jeremiah Healy, T. Jefferson Parker, and the ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates, this year's volume testifies to the narrowing of the border between the Whodunit of the traditional mystery story and the Whatscoming of literary short fiction; practically all the stories get their charge from a sense of violence threatened rather than accomplished. Authors most successful at balancing literary pleasures against those specific to the mystery genre are Jennifer Anderson (a lifetime of disillusionment squeezed into a month as a probationary cop), Steve Hockensmith (a retiring officer's last day on the job), and Russell Banks (a tango for lobsters, bears, and humans). Read full book review >
HIT LIST by Lawrence Block
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

"These conversations, which seem such blather, are blather whose interplay of banality and olympian judgment, as in James M. Cain and Quentin Tarantino, forms the real heart of this modern samurai fable."
Fresh from his triumphant star turn in the short-story cycle Hit Man (1998), Block's reflective professional assassin John Keller finally fulfills his fans' dearest wish by getting a novel of his own. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 15, 2000

"Lots of suspense writers can keep you turning pages far into the night. But how many others can keep you starting story after story, popping just one more poisoned chocolate, hours after you meant to turn out the light?"
Except for the juvenilia collected in One Night Stands (not reviewed) and the ten Keller stories in Hit Man (1998), of which Block has chosen three, the 71 tales in this indispensable volume represent the complete short fiction of one of the genre's giants. Most of the stories are familiar from the three earlier collections reprinted in full—Sometimes They Bite, Like a Lamb to Slaughter (1984), and Some Days You Get the Bear (1993). But Block sweetens the pot with several variable hardcover debuts, including one new story apiece about burglar/bookseller Bernie Rhodenbarr (a clever but transparent locked room), Nero Wolfe wannabe Leo Haig and his sidekick Chip Harrison (a charming in-joke for mystery buffs), genially unscrupulous attorney Martin Ehrengraf (a five-finger exercise), and alcoholic shamus Matthew Scudder (an atmospheric sketch), as well as early studies for the Scudder novels When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1986) and A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (1991). More consistently rewarding are the five new non-series entries in which Block—like Ed Gorman, his only serious rival among contemporary writers of crime short stories—honors his pulp roots by taking them seriously. Like all the best short stories, each of them, from the badger game turned murderous to the fatalistic ex-con trying vainly to go straight, seems less created than discovered, dug up from dark places and carved to gemlike brightness. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1999

Ask any writer his or her favorite story, and you'll get a question right back: "Mine or somebody else's?" The creator of Bernie Rhodenbarr (The Burglar in the Rye, p. 836, etc.) and of Matthew Scudder (Everybody Dies, 1998, etc.) asked nine of his colleagues to answer both questions, and the result is nine pairs of suspense yarns with little in common but excellence. Some of the choices show affinities between authors and their models (Tony Hillerman and Joe Gores, Peter Lovesey and Donald E. Westlake, Ed Gorman and Stephen Crane) or reveal what writers value most about their own work (Joan Hess's atypically unnerving "Another Room" and Judith Garner's equally nightmarish "Trick or Treat"). But many choices are just plain surprising—Stephen King picks Joyce Carol Oates, Bill Pronzini picks Benjamin Appel, editor Block picks John O'Hara (the little-known noir scorcher "In a Grove"). Two complaints: Harlan Ellison's long headnote makes his contribution ("Tired Old Man") unnecessary; and five of the stories are so well-known you won't even need to be told their authors: "First Lead Gasser," "Goodbye, Pops," "The Problem of Cell 13," "August Heat," and "The Blue Hotel." A first-rate collection of stories that deserve their reputation. Read full book review >
THE BURGLAR IN THE RYE by Lawrence Block
Released: July 1, 1999

If you catch the allusion in Block's title, you're in just the right mood for Bernie Rhodenbarr's ninth spot of burglary-cum-detection. Alice Cottrell, a former teen prodigy who spent three of her Wonder years with Gulliver Fairborn, the famously reclusive American writer whose first novel changed the life of every teenager who read it, has hired Bernie to steal Gully's letters to Anthea Landau - the ex-agent who's about to put them up for auction even though Gully copyrighted them - so that Alice can protect her old mentor by destroying them. Bernie checks into Anthea's hotel (the seedy, genteel, splendidly evoked Paddington) breaks sedately into her room, and begins his search for the letters. But he has to leave half a step ahead of the law when he realizes that the reason Anthea isn't listening to his burglarious noises is that she's dead and the cops are knocking. Except for the corpse, this may sound as familiar as last week's literary gossip, but when Bernie stops to purloin a ruby necklace from another Paddington guestroom he passes through during his escape, he opens a whole new can of worms and unleashes a comic nightmare of collectors, scholars, spurned lovers, and garden-variety thieves. Read full book review >
EVERYBODY DIES by Lawrence Block
Released: Oct. 7, 1998

Mick Ballou can't tell the cops about the men who broke into his storage room in Jersey, murdered two of his errand boys, and carted off the liquor that was stored there, since Mick had stolen the booze himself. Instead, he calls Matthew Scudder. Even though Scudder is more respectable than ever—he's married his longtime companion Elaine Mardell and gotten a private investigator's license at last—he helps Mick and his driver Andy Buckley bury the bodies, and noses around just enough to satisfy himself that he can't tell whether the thieves were opportunists or personal enemies. But Scudder, his modest task completed, doesn't take himself off the case fast enough for the killers, who are only getting started. They arrange to have him beaten, they send a shooter after him, and then they go after Mick in earnest. The body count, as the title suggests, is fearsome. But even more harrowing is the obsession with death that grips everybody Scudder talks to, from gay albino African-American Danny Boy Bell, who's constantly updating his list of all the people he knows who've died, to Mick, still fabled 30 years later as having celebrated his victory over a rival mobster by toting around a hideous trophy in a bowling bag. Not as breathtakingly plotted as Scudder's last, Even the Wicked (1997), but still an unforgettable dispatch from a world in which there are no real survivors, just guys who haven't died yet. Read full book review >
TANNER ON ICE by Lawrence Block
Released: July 1, 1998

Evan Tanner, the soldier of misfortune who's been out of commission since Me Tanner, You Jane (1970), returns, youthful and hale as ever, for a murky assignment in Burma. Tanner is chilled to the bone, and no wonder: Ever since a tenderhearted activist whose politics didn't square with Tanner's decided to get him out of the picture, he's spent the past 25 years cryogenically frozen. Defrosted, updated—in a series of welcome-to-the—-90s vignettes that are the best thing in the book—and restored to his daughter-figure Minna, the Lithuanian royal claimant who's now grown to seem as old as he is, Tanner's ready for another posting at the hands of his old chief. Tanner's ostensible assignment this time is to destabilize the repressive regime in Myanmar ("Burma" to the retro sensibilities of Tanner and the Chief) by assassinating Aung San Suu Kyi, the housebound Nobel laureate who's the world's most famous dissident, at the behest of billionaire businessman Rufus Crombie, who wants to install a new regime that can buy more American goods. But even before he's politely forbidden from entering Suu Kyi's street, Tanner knows he isn't going to kill her. Unfortunately, it's never entirely clear what he's going to do in Burma instead, other than drink cheap local liquor, get involved with a Eurasian refugee whose ancestors have picked the losing side in every political struggle in the past century, and find a dead man in his hotel bed. Inevitably, Tanner gets picked up by the police, and then at last he's got a mission: to get out of Dodge ahead of the hangman while giving full rein to his creator's matchless gifts as a raconteur. Block (Everybody Dies, 1998, etc.) writes about Burma with the insider's slant of somebody who's spent time there, and with the disenchantment of somebody who doesn't expect to be invited back. Tanner's fans, happy to see him back in action, won't mind if the action doesn't seem to go anywhere in particular. Read full book review >
HIT MAN by Lawrence Block
Released: Feb. 1, 1998

For some years now, Block's been chronicling the adventures of fatalistic hired assassin J.P. Keller. Now Block (The Burglar in the Library, p. 912, etc.) has revised and collected ten stories showing Keller doing what he does best. As he sallies forth from his First Avenue apartment to one American city after another at the behest of the old man in White Plains, Keller ponders whether he can kill a man he's grown to like, mops up after hitting the wrong target, serves as cat's-paw for killers initially more clever than he is, and agonizes over which of two clients who've paid to have each other killed he's going to have to disappoint. In between his methodical executions, he also checks out real estate in Oregon, consults a therapist, takes up stamp collecting, wonders if learning more about flowers would enrich his life, buys earrings for the woman who walks his dog, and worries how much of a commitment he can make to either the woman or the dog. It's the combination of the many things Keller ruminates about and the many things he tries not to ("This is the wrong business for moral decisions," the old man's secretary admonishes him) that gives him his melancholy fascination. Is the result a novel or a cycle of stories? Block's ravenous fans—delighted to see at least three masterpieces ("Keller on Horseback," "Keller's Therapy", and "Keller in Shining Armor") gathered in one volume—won't care any more than Keller would. Read full book review >
Released: July 15, 1997

All princely burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr wanted was to steal off to the Berkshires for a romantic weekend with Lettice Runcible at the oh-so-English Cuttleford House, then to go home with a rumored Cuttleford book—a copy of The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler inscribed to Dashiell Hammett—that wasn't his. But things don't exactly work out that way. First off, Lettice announces that she can't go because she's getting married that weekend, and when Bernie handsomely adapts by bringing his platonic chum Carolyn Kaiser along instead, who should complete the fanciful assortment of guests at Cuttleford House but Lettice and her bridegroom? As for the library that Bernie hopes to plunder, it's got more foot traffic than the Library of Congress, even before the discovery of a guest's cooling corpse makes it the center of attention. The sedate country-house setting, the general jollity (the grue is leavened by a precocious ten-year- old and the casual slaughters of several victims who barely have names, much less faces), and, above all, the body-in-the-library scream Agatha Christie, but the killer's model seems to be Christie's darkest novel: And Then There Were None. The cut phone lines, the sabotaged snowblower, the ruined bridge to the outside world—all these retro trappings climax in a denouement (in the library, naturally) that must be one of the most deliriously overextended in the history of the genre. Bernie, evidently recovered from his most recent folly (The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart, 1995), has a fine time mocking the conventions of Christie's bygone age. Fans who don't insist on plotting as tight as Christie's will enjoy themselves just as much as if it were her. Read full book review >
EVEN THE WICKED by Lawrence Block
Released: Feb. 1, 1997

The self-anointed "Will of the People" is a serial killer with a difference. His targets are all people you might wish were dead yourself, from child rapist-murderer Richie Vollmer to mafioso Patsy Salerno to rabid anti-abortion activist Roswell Berry to anti-Semitic black professor Julian Rashid—who wasn't even killed by the person writing gravely threatening letters to Marty McGraw of the Daily News, but by a member of Rashid's own inner circle. Does that prove that Will is a hoax? Not at all, claims Will in his next letter; it just shows that the will of the people expresses itself through many agents. So how can Will's latest target, all-too-successful criminal defender Adrian Whitfield, protect himself?. By hiring legendary Matthew Scudder (A Long Line of Dead Men, 1994, etc.) to take Will on. Though he's ready to pass along some tips about personal security to Whitfield, Scudder doesn't see what he can dig up about Will's identity that an army of cops have missed—and besides, he's already been teased into looking into the unheralded and apparently unrelated shooting of AIDS-stricken Byron Leopold in a public park. But Scudder's underestimating himself. By the time he finally closes his most satisfying case in years, he'll have identified Will and run down a hideously clever murder plot based on "viatical transactions." An ingenious whodunit that's also, in Block's recent manner, a provoking meditation on mortality—with a particularly strong supporting role for the City of New York, which turns in its finest performance since Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails. Read full book review >
Released: June 19, 1995

Since his return last year in The Burglar who Traded Ted Williams, veteran burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr's been spending so much time at a Bogart film festival — most of it in the company of lovely Ilona Markova — that he's started to talk and think like Bogie. But when Hugo Candlemas offers him $5,000 to sneak into an East Side apartment and steal a leather portfolio, Bernie reverts to form and breaks in. Sadly, while he's hiding in the closet from the tenant, who's returned unexpectedly to enjoy himself with a really close friend, the portfolio disappears — and then so does the client, untiil Bernie's old nemesis, Der. Ray Kirschmann, announces that he's turned up dead. The only lead: a photograph Bernie saw while he was looking for the portfolio — a photo of Vlados I, late King of the marginal eastern European country of Anatruria, a man whose picture decorates Ilona's apartment as well. The coincidence puts Bernie on the trail of a 40-year-old OSS mission, a contemporary free-for-all for the treasures of Anatruria, and a cast of refugees from The Maltese Falcon — including the fat man, his gunsel, and an Assyrian conspirator — plus a quintet of secret agents calling themselves the ram, the mouse, the cat, the rabbit, and the woodchuck — all of whom get into the spirit of things by calling each other "you glutton" and "you gross Circassian swine." A minor divertissement for Bernie, whose foray into Ruritanian romance seems foolish and whose detective skills seem strained to the limit by the outrageous plot. Bernie's charming Bogart fixation, though, only reminds you again why you'd rather be stranded on a desert island with him than any other detective in fiction. Read full book review >
A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN by Lawrence Block
Released: Oct. 21, 1994

Take a group of 31 men in their 20s. How many of them would you expect to die over the next 30 years? Lewis Hildebrand, one of the 1961 matriculants to the generations-old Club of 31 (rumored earlier members: Newton, Mozart, Franklin) whose sole purpose is to meet once a year to memorialize their dead and wait until their last surviving member can appoint 30 new fellows, thinks that 17 fatalities is entirely too many. So he hires unlicensed PI Matthew Scudder to determine whether and why somebody may be eliminating every member of the club. There's no obvious motive—no residual legacy, nothing the victims all had in common—and no obvious starting point for Scudder's investigations. But his patient legwork soon convinces him that several accidents, suicides, and murders blamed on other suspects are the work of a single dedicated individual who strikes again the day after 9 of the 14 surviving members meet. Working in a vein of contemplative tranquillity poles apart from his earlier savagery, Scudder manages to identify the killer and mete out condign punishment. Unfortunately, the autumnal acceptance of mortality Scudder's been moving toward in his recent outings (The Devil Knows You're Dead, 1993, etc.) works against both mystery and suspense this time, though Scudder's many fans won't want to miss his ritual Nunc Dimittis. Read full book review >
Released: May 4, 1994

In the ten years since recovering burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr's last venture into larceny (The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian, not reviewed), his prolific creator has become famous mostly for his dark-hued Matthew Scudder stories. But Block hasn't lost his light touch either, as he demonstrates when Bernie's confronted by temptation — overhearing that the Martin Gilmartins will be leaving their apartment ripe for the picking — valiantly resists, keeps phoning the Gilmartin place till Gilmartin picks up the phone and Bernie knows the hour of temptation has passed — and then, unable to resist a second tip about another empty apartment, lets himself in, discovers a dead body (male, nude, shot) locked inside a bathroom, dusts himself off and goes home — only to be arrested next morning for stealing Gilmartin's collection of baseball cards. Ray Kirschmann, the arresting officer, is perfectly willing to do a deal for the cards; so is Gilmartin's covetous brother-in-law Borden Stoppelgard, Bernie's new landlord. And although Gwendolyn Cooper, who absently tipped him off about the second apartment, is convinced he didn't steal the cards, she wants Bernie to break into her boyfriend's place to grab them from him. Deliciously laid-back fare from a master who makes it all look easy. Bernie, it's been too long. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 19, 1993

Mysteries of the heart eclipse those of the street in Matt Scudder's quietly compelling new case, which finds the p.i. avoiding the wrenching physical violence of his last few outings (A Walk Among the Tombstones, etc.) but falling prey to all sorts of emotional havoc. The crime on which Block hangs Scudder's latest study in angst is the apparent shooting death of attorney Glenn Holtzmann by deranged homeless vet George Sadecki. Despite strong evidence of Sadecki's guilt, the accused's brother hires Scudder to look into the case—which the unlicensed p.i. does, discovering that Holtzmann, far from being a clean-cut yuppie, was actually a professional rat for various federal agencies and may have been slain by one of his targets. Scudder's gumshoeing is dogged but not very exciting—lots of phone calls and interviews—and serves mostly to put him in contact with old series regulars and one likely new one, a sympathetic transvestite, as well as with Holtzmann's widow, with whom he starts an affair despite his commitment to longtime girlfriend Elaine: The widow proves as addictive as booze and in fact may drive Scudder back to drink, especially if he keeps indulging in moody midnight gabfests with Irish gangster Mick Ballou and brooding over a WW I poem about breaking faith with those who've died. Meanwhile, in an equally introspective subplot, Scudder's old flame Jan Keane is dying of cancer and asks Scudder to get her a suicide-gun, which he does. Will she choose life, however painful, instead of the bullet's oblivion? Will Scudder resist the bottle and widow and do the same? The murder finally resolves through a quirk of fate: Can Scudder command his own fate? Those who can take or leave Scudder will probably leave this gathering of shadows: loyalists, though, will hang on every word as Scudder makes his fascinatingly uncertain way through an increasingly uncertain world. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 15, 1993

Second of the publisher's hardcover reprints of the early Matt Scudder novels. In The Sins of the Fathers (1992/1976), Stephen King waxed on about the alcoholic p.i.'s cases; this one comes with an equally flattering introduction by Jonathan Kellerman, though the story's not as good—a relatively pat, if pungently saturnine, tale of blackmail and murder. As with many reprints of aged paperbacks (e.g., Bill Pronzini's Carmody's Run, p. 554), period-piece value outweighs the literary here. This Scudder is very 70's; boozing his days and nights away; casually bribing cops for the price of a "hat" ($25); willing—thanks to his (and the era's) ignorance about child molestation—to let a pederast go free. The case itself has a classic setup: A small-time hood hires Scudder to guard a package; when the hood turns up dead, Scudder opens the package to find four envelopes, three of them holding blackmail evidence—one on an "architectural consultant" with pockets deep enough to have bought his daughter off a manslaughter charge; another on a society wife with a secret prostitute past; the third on a would-be state governor with a yen for young boys. The fourth envelope contains $4,000 and a request that Scudder find the hood's murderer among the three. The p.i. visits each suspect, pretending to be their new blackmailer. Soon, two near-miss attempts—by car and by knife—are made on his life; then one suspect kills himself: case closed? Scudder thinks so, until an unexpected third attack sends him on a drunken bender and onto the trail of suspect number two: case closed? Not likely, in Scudder/Block's darkly ironic world. More than paperback hack work, but special only to die-hard Scudder fans—and for glimmers of what was to come. Read full book review >
Released: April 23, 1993

Twenty-one stories by the winner of last year's Edgar for Best Novel (A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, 1981), demonstrating his versatility, productiveness, and growth as a writer. Though this is Block's third collection (after Like a Lamb to Slaughter and Sometimes They Bite), focusing on tales written after 1984, it includes four pieces published in the 60's in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Each Hitchcock yarn concerns murder and packs a final twist but no emotional resonance: practice scales, really, played diligently by a writer learning his craft. The later stories show the development of Block's more mature themes. Three series characters appear in them: Bernie Rhodenbarr, a thief who steals nothing of value and is a veteran of five novels (The Burglar Who Liked Mondrian, etc.); Martin H. Ehrengraf, an attorney whose ruthless methods get his clients (accused murderers) off the hook and who appears only in stories; and popular p.i. Matt Scudder. Rhodenbarr's turn, in "The Burglar Who Dropped in on Elvis"—a witty puzzler in which the thief is hired to break into and photograph Elvis's sequestered bedroom at Graceland—highlights Block's lighter vein, which has been drying out lately. The two Ehrengraf stories—which show the lawyer crucifying innocents to defend his clients—demonstrate how Block's earlier irony grew into a sharper mordancy. And the two Scudder tales, as well as several others, reflect his more recent concern with ever-darker subjects. "Answers to Soldier," for instance, tells of a hit man who regularly warms up to his intended victims but inevitably reverts to his cruel ways; and "The Merciful Angel of Death," a powerful exploration of compassion, relates Scudder's tracking of a woman who may be sending AIDS victims to a gentle death. A mixed bag ranging from the hack to the sublime—and, for its best work, a must for Block/Scudder fans. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 13, 1992

Earlier this year, the mystery community paid tribute to Block's extraordinary Matt Scudder aeries by awarding 1991's A Dance at the Slaughterhouse—not quite the aeries' finest—an Edgar for Beat Mystery. Scudder's new outing, his tenth, lives up to the honor as the brooding, alcoholic p.i takes on a pair of sadistic thrill-killers. Block opens with some stylistic flash, intercutting third-person narration of the abduction-murder of a Brooklyn drug-dealer's wife with Scudder's account of his own mundane doings the day of the crime. The p.i.'s voice takes over entirely, explaining bow the dealer's brother, a fellow AA member, asked him to look into the killing—a particularly vicious crime, with the victim, despite a ransom payment, returned in butchered pieces. Slowly—the action takes a while to boil—Scudder sniffs up leads with much help from his pals—not gangster Mick Ballou, who dominated the p.i.'s last three cases but who's now visiting Ireland, but other series veterans, including lover/call-gift Elaine and T.J., a spunky young hustler. And a pair of newcomers, the Kongs, teenage outlaw hackers whose midnight ramble through the phone company's computers provides a welcome light note as well as valuable clues. The case breaks when another drug-dealer's daughter is snatched, leading to a skin-prickling showdown with the killers at a Brooklyn cemetery, and to a grim and vicious blood-revenge. The story concludes, though, with Scudder fumbling toward a new alliance with Elaine, and with an alcoholic's suicide—affecting examples of the frailty, courage, and moral uncertainty that are Block's real subjects. The Edgar Award merely confirmed what Block's fans already know—that Matt Scudder is the most appealing and richly human p.i. working today. And this exciting, moving, immensely satisfying case proves it. Read full book review >
Released: May 25, 1992

The 1976 paperback that introduced Block's melancholy, alcoholic shamus Matt Scudder finally gets a well-deserved hardcover edition—as well as a charming fan letter of an introduction from Stephen King. King pinpoints why the nine-book Scudder series (A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, 1991, etc.) is among mystery's most popular and finest: "The absence of cats," i.e., "tricks." As King says, Scudder is a "pure" detective who "is real because his milieu is real." The fascinating ordinariness of Scudder and the harsh realness of his New York City arrive full force here as the p.i. is hired by a distraught father to look into the recent stabbing murder of his estranged daughter. Not to solve it, because the apparent killer, the girl's gay male roommate, has already been arrested—and punished: he's hung himself in his jail cell; but to find out more about the girl and why anyone would want to kill her. Scudder accepts the job reluctantly, as is his dour way, and during the course of his brief digging exhibits the sort of brave yet flawed behavior that sets him apart from other literary p.i.s: doggedly following the victim's trail down unexpected alleys as he learns that she was a moderately happy hooker who in fact was loved like a sister by her alleged killer; as he tithes 10% of his earnings to random churches; casts a cynical yet kindly eye on his fellow citizens; seeks release from the evil he finds in some through booze, the hired love of call-girl Elaine, and stunning bursts of violence, particularly against a mugger whose fingers he carefully snaps one by one. And, of course, Scudder turns up the real killer. Not as richly textured as most of the later cases, but, still, as haunting and mournful as the baying of a hound at the moon—and a must for Block/Scudder fans. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 20, 1991

A wrenching and lurid Matt Scudder outing that pits the unlicensed p.i. against childkilling slime and climaxes in vigilante violence. Perhaps the plot externals are so fierce here because Scudder's internal demons have mellowed: He seems to have won his battle with the bottle, and his loneliness has been banished by love for call-girl Elaine and by friendship with Irish gangster Mick Ballou. The only enemy left is the evil of others—which is waged war upon in two related cases here. In the first, Scudder is hired by a dying man (AIDS) to determine whether, as both he and the cops suspect, the robbery/rape/murder of the man's sister was really a setup by her greedy husband, cable-TV magnate Richard Thurman, to cash in on her life insurance. In the second, Scudder is asked by an A.A. colleague to watch a rented video of The Dirty Dozen; hidden on the tape is a snuff film in which a costumed man and woman torture, then kill, a teenage boy. In one of several coincidences that gear the plot (and which Block doesn't try to hide), Scudder, trailing Thurman, recognizes the man from the film—Bruno Stettner, who, with seductive wife Olga, had mesmerized Thurman into joining their sadistic sex games and killing Mrs. Thurman for profit. This Scudder learns by winning Thurman's confidence during several chats (which, added to his long talks with Ballou, Elaine, and a cop-pal, give the narrative a lazy, even slack, feel); but although Thurman's confession solves that case—and leads to his murder by the Stettners—it takes Scudder and Ballou's vengeance by cleaver and gun, in a grand guignol finale, to close out the second. Written with great heart and care, but even less of a mystery and more of a melodrama than A Ticket to the Boneyard (1990), and smacking a bit too much of Andrew Vachss (the child-abuse vigilantism), as if Scudder/Block were treading water, albeit it dark and deep. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 27, 1990

Matthew Scudder's exceptionally gripping eighth outing finds the unlicensed, alcoholic Gotham p.i. (Out on the Cutting Edge, 1988, etc.) pitted against a human monster. The trouble starts when Matt's friend, call-girl Elaine Mardell, is mailed a clipping on the mass murder/suicide of an Ohio family. Only one man, Elaine reasons, could have sent the clipping, because only he could know that the slain wife was once Elaine's fellow hooker: James Leo Motley, a sadistic, necrophiliac psycho just released from a prison sentence that Matt and Elaine framed him into 12 years before. When Matt gets an identical clipping, he too is convinced that Motley killed the family, and he flies to Ohio to try—with little success—to convince the local police of the same. Returning to New York, Matt plunges into hell: a vengeful Motley is stalking and killing women tied to Matt, however loosely. The maniac throws one of Matt's A.A. friends from a 22-story window, then savages a woman with the last name of Scudder, no relation. Despairing, Matt loses his edge and is lured into an abandoned lot where Motley tortures him—and leaves him slinking off for a bottle of bourbon. But rage replaces thirst: Matt goes out and beats up an obnoxious punk, then hangs out with friend Mickey Ballou, a career criminal. The rage becomes fierce when Matt learns that Motley has rope-tortured Elaine to the edge of death, leading the p.i. to dispense vigilante justice in a brutal, shocking conclusion. More thriller than mystery, and a powerful one: with Motley a kind of absolute evil against which Matt measures his own frailities and strengths, this sensitive and entertaining case is the series' richest since Eight Million Ways to Die—a must for Block/ Scudder fans. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 17, 1989

Popular alcoholic shamus Matt Scudder (When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, etc.) returns, still battling the bottle and the evils that drive men and women to it—in this powerful but far-fetched case, a kidnapping that dovetails into mass murder. What's happened to Paula Hoeldtke, an aspiring actress from Muncie, Ind., who's vanished into the rotten core of the Big Apple? Her dad hires Scudder to find out, so the unlicensed gumshoe scours Manhattan for clues, pausing only for a few closely detailed A.A. meetings and some talk with a ratty alcoholic ex-con named Eddie Dunphy—who soon turns up dead, an apparent victim of accidental autoerotic asphyxiation. Shaken, Scudder begins a passionate affair with Dunphy's landlady, a boozer whose whiskey breath sorely tempts the now-sober shamus, and also begins to visit the dead con's haunts—notably, a neighborhood bar owned by Irish mobster Mickey Ballou. There, Scudder flirts further with booze and also with danger, confronting Ballou about Dunphy's death—a confrontation that leads to unexpected friendship and, in a happy coincidence, to a clue to Paula's grisly fate: murder, by a lover's hand. And at nearly the same time, a second clue leads Scudder to Dunphy's real fate: again murder, for profit and at a shockingly familiar hand. An angry Ballou dispenses poetic justice to Paula's killer; an anguished Scudder turns in Dunphy's: cases closed, but sorrow rules the land. Woefully light on the detection—which here is arbitrary and serendipitous—but Scudder remains as compelling as ever, grave and compassionate and doing the right thing in a wrong world that Block makes real with street-fresh dialogue, characters, and prose. Not the best in the series, but still fine gumshoeing and a treat for Scudder fans. Read full book review >
RANDOM WALK by Lawrence Block
Released: Oct. 17, 1988

In his foreword to this "Novel for a New Age," as the publisher touts it, mystery maven Block (the Matt Scudder and Evan Tanner series, etc.) thanks 15 spiritual teachers for their "valuable assistance." Too bad none of these gums had the smarts to tell Block to shelve this naive, preachy, and dull offering about a ragtag band of pilgrims who achieve ersatz wisdom on their walk to nowhere. The first walker is Oregon bartender Guthrie Wagner, who one day hears a voice in his head say, "You could take a walk." Take a walk Guthrie does, quitting his job and stepping east. Right away, small miracles occur: he sleeps in near-freezing air and feels no chill; he gives up smoking without trying. Meanwhile, two others soon to cross paths with Guthrie go about their business: 30-ish Indiana mom Sara Duskin, losing her sight but gaining insight and vision; and serial killer Mark Adlon, a woman-hating, millionaire real-estate investor whose stalking and slaying of a slew of victims provides the only real suspense here. As Mark goes on a cross-country killing spree, Sara ups stakes and, young son in tow, follows her heart to Guthrie, who's now strolling along with a buddy he's picked up along the way. The quartet ambles on, joined by dozens, then scores of others who feel the irresistible pull to walk; miracle cures of cancer and paralysis balloon among the walkers as Sara, now the band's acknowledged gum, goes into a trance and reveals their purpose: "to cure the planet's cancer. . .when enough people are walking, the planetary consciousness will reach critical mass, and then everybody will just plain get it without walking." Even serial killers, it seems: when Mark finally feels the call and finds the walkers, they forgive him his murders—after all, as Sara tells him, "Is it your fault they're dead? No. Every death is a kind of suicide; the one who dies chooses it." Fair warning: Run, don't walk, away from this dull psychospiritual babble. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1986

The standout entry in 1985's Best Mystery and Suspense Stories of the Year was Block's "By the Dawn's Early Light," in which dour shamus Matt Scudder (Eight Million Ways to Die) recalled the bygone case that disillusioned him forever. Here, however, that powerful story is insensitively recycled and sadly diluted—in a padded, makeshift novel that patches together two unrelated, small-scale plot lines. Both stories do emerge from the same milieu: the mid-1970's on Manhattan's boozy West Side, where ex-cop Matt (hurting from his recent divorce) does lots of serious, all-night drinking. At one after-hours joint, a tough Irish spot called Tim Pat's, Matt witnesses a daring holdup by masked men—and is later asked to track down the robbers' identities. But he has hardly a clue until these thieves strike again: they steal incriminating documents from the office of Matt's drinking-buddy Skip Devoe, holding them for ransom. And some similarities between the two crimes lead Matt to realize that the robbers have a secret accomplice—someone who has been guilty of betraying his friends (a recurring theme here). The other story (the one on better display in "By the Dawn's Early Light") involves another drinking buddy, salesman Tommy Tillary—boozy, 45, a philanderer with a Manhattan girlfriend and a Brooklyn wife. So, when Tommy becomes a suspect in the murder of his wife, it's up to Matt to help prove that the real killers were a pair of Puerto Rican burglars. Block shuffles the two story-lines together competently; the mixture is further thickened with vignettes from Matt's private life—his affair with Tommy's girlfriend, his weekend fatherhood. But both plots suffer from the slack, attenuated structure. And though heavy promotion (with the imminent arrival of a Matt Scudder film) may attract a large audience to the talented Mr. Block, this pseudo-novel—despite strong dialogue and atmosphere—isn't a fair representation of his customary, succinct gift for storytelling. Read full book review >
Released: June 30, 1985

Under the "Chip Harrison" pseudonym, Block (The Burglar in the Closet, etc.) published four paperback novels in the early 1970s—all of them recounting the mild, comic sex/suspense exploits of smirky adolescent narrator Chip. In this 1975 outing (first time in hardcover), Chip has become the assistant to fat, fame-hungry N.Y. detective Leo Haig, playing a very un-subtle Archie Goodwin to Haig's Nero Wolfe. So the Rex Stout allusions soon proliferate when Haig takes on the case of Tulip Willing (n‚e Thelma Wolinski), a stripper/biologist whose precious experimental fish have been poisoned. (Instead of orchids, Haig dotes on tropical fish.) Whodunit? Is the fish-killer the same villain who then murders Tulip's colleague/roommate, Cherry Bounce, with a poison dart (mid-strip)? Chip quizzes all the suspects, finds another couple of corpses, and—partly to please his paperback editor—allows himself to be seduced at regular intervals. ("'We're not in the business to sell books,' he said. 'We're selling hard-ons.'") But all the glory, of course, belongs to reclusive Haig—who gathers all the characters together at his town house for the clue-by-clue wrapup and the final ho-hum revelations. Routine as mystery, dated as satire, and a lot less funny than Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr series—but a quick, breezy, mildly fetching parody/hommage for Wolfe aficionados. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 17, 1984

Most of Block's better—and funnier—short stories were collected in Sometimes They Bite. This second gathering, with 18 stories originally printed in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and elsewhere (plus two originals), includes too much that's humdrum or contrived, with little of Block's zesty, dark-edged comedy. The title piece is a longish outing for ex-cop hero Matthew Scudder (A Stab in the Dark), investigating the death of a bag-lady—with sentimental inquiries into her warmhearted, people-loving life. At the other, cynical extreme are two vignettes featuring a ruthless lawyer named Ehrengraf, who'll go to any lengths to win acquittal for his murder-case clients. And "The Books Always Balance" is a solid nasty-twist tale of blackmail and adultery. Among the other, lesser entries: lots of double-crossing thieves, a dab of ESP, a tough kidnap victim, a clever wife-killer—and "Death of the Mallory Queen," a strained in-crowd parody full of references to the publishers and writers in today's mystery-fiction biz. Competent, mystery-magazine work overall, but entirely undistinguished. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 7, 1980

More of Manhattan's favorite burglar/antiquarian-bookseller—Bernie Rhodenbarr, whose narration is becoming (to his credit) a little less aggressively wise-guyish. This time Bernie and sidekick Carolyn (a lesbian pet-store owner) rob a posh 18th street pad—and, though some other burglars have already ravaged the place, they lift a valuable 1913 nickel from the safe and entrust it to Bernie's beloved mittel-European fence, old Abel Crowe. Trouble ahead, though: that same night, the wife of the owner of the posh pad is found murdered. . . and then Abel Crowe is slain. Was the lady of the house killed by yet a third set of burglars? (Her hubby caught a glimpse of the robber, he says.) Did someone kill Abel to get hold of that nickel? And who is following Bernie around, trying to get the nickel from him? Even modestly savvy readers will guess the answer to the lady's murder—but the solution to Abel's death is endearingly surprising. And all the deductions are stagily announced by Bernie—from the pulpit of a little church in Brooklyn during Abel's memorial service. The usual assortment of break-ins, seams, dumb cops, smart talk, Village-y milieu. . . plus some numismatics: Bernie's fans will not be disappointed. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1979

Has Bernie Rhodenbarr—Manhattan's coolest, calmest, least violent professional burglar—gone straight So it seems; he's now the owner of an antiquarian bookstore down on 11th St. But never fear. That's just a sideline, and Bernie is back to his old tricks, having been hired to steal a one-of-a-kind Kipling rarity (the only surviving copy of an anti-Semitic narrative poem) from a lavish Forest Hills Gardens townhouse. He does so, beautifully, but when he shows up to deliver the goods, he's drugged and wakes to find himself—as usual—framed for murder. So Bernie's on the lam again, hiding out with lesbian chum Carolyn, and tracking down various suspects—the phony who hired him to steal, a Maharajah who's after the Kipling, and the mystery boyfriend of the murder victim (a kinky courtesan). Bernie's narrating sass is as jazzy as ever (always just slightly too smartsy for comfort), with bookish humor mixing in nicely with the burglary lore. So, except for rather too much attention to sidekick Carolyn's lesbian affairs of the heart, it's another slick Rhodenbarr romp, full of blithely stolen cars, giddy plotting, and streetwise Manhattan atmosphere. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 15, 1978

Beware! Bernie Rhodenbarr is back—don't bother to lock your door, he'd just open it anyway. As you may remember, button-down burglar Bernie ("I love to steal. I just plain love it") stumbled on a corpse during a heist last year (Burglars Can't Be Choosers); this time, the murder occurs while Bernie, who's been interrupted mid-heist in a Gramercy Park pad, cowers in the closet. Emerging from said closet, Bernie discovers not only a dead divorcee (stabbed) but also that the murderer has taken the loot Bernie had just finished assembling. To clear himself and to repossess that booty, Bernie goes a-sleuthing, searching out the divorcee's many gent friends in Irving Place bars and Soho lofts. A forgery ring turns up—along with the breezy Manhattan repartee and charmingly crude New Yorkers we've come to expect from the likably smart-alecky Mr. Block. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1977

A smart-alecky, Slightly kinky divertissement jives forth when discriminating Manhattan burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr (lives on the West Side, burgles on the East Side) is hired to snatch a blue, leather-covered box from a luxury apartment—only to find highly bribable cops and a just-barely dead corpse on the premises. Obvious suspect Bernie flees, of course, hides out with the roaches and a duplicitous bedmate-accomplice in Greenwich Village, and sneaks around in disguise—more cop-bribing—to solve the crime (neatly) and clear his bad name. This guilt-free, smug narrator may not be everyone's idea of an urban Robin Hood, and his licentious witticisms start out so-so and go downtown from there—but he's a fast, loose guide through the city streets and full of unwelcome information on how easily your burglar-proof locks can be picked. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 8, 1971

Larry is the editor of the Ronald Rabbit Magazine, defunct, who has been subsidized for eight months of inactivity when he is canned, synchronized with the defection of his second wife who cleans out his bank account. He owes money everywhere — even a salary overpayment — which still does not diminish his sexual enterprise with which this is concerned and its verbal voyeurism is chiefly devoted to oral sex. Kiddie Kartoon kink for other dirty old men. Read full book review >
ME TANNER, YOU JANE by Lawrence Block
Released: May 11, 1970

Even though this might put a crimp in some fussy Afro hairstyle, this is a generally funny safari into one of those not altogether emerged nations with Tanner (he's a government agent) appearing in hardcover for the first time. When first met in Modonoland he's being "removalized" in a coffin and this treks some 1000 miles to its original venue with Plum, a ripe fifteen, and Sheena, a cannibal junglecat, and all sorts of others. . . . Lots of dynathrust—rowdy and randy. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 13, 1968

Alex Penn, former teacher of history although there's nothing in this background to remotely suggest it, comes out of prison after a homicide to black out in a hotel room with another dead girl of the streets. This livid tracer in which he rightly suspects he's been used extends from his family and friends of the past to another girl who'd known the casualty, a junkie, a connection, etc. . . . Adults only, men first, paperbacks inevitably. Read full book review >
DEADLY HONEYMOON by Lawrence Block
Released: Aug. 1, 1967

Jill and Dave Wade are starting their honeymoon in a motel when they witness the murder of a man at the hands of two hired guns, and Jill is raped by both of them. With only a name—dropped—as identification, this tracer, with revenge as its objective, becomes a fast track all the way, accelerated by the stutter of gunfire. Of its kind, good. Read full book review >