Matthew Scudder looks back at his first year off the sauce to recall that making amends can be murder.
Years after he went to school with Jack Ellery, Scudder next sees him through a one-way mirror after Det. Bill Lonergan’s pulled Ellery in for a robbery. The witness fails to pick Jack out of the lineup, but it’s not long this time before Scudder runs into him again at an AA meeting. The two men get to talking about this and that, and Jack indicates that his sponsor, gay jewelry designer Gregory Stillman, is something of a Step Nazi who’s making him go through each of the 12 steps in the AA program. It’s step 8 that brings Jack to grief. Having prepared a list of the people he’s wronged, he’s determined to apologize to each of them and ask what he can do to make things right. One of them, a fence he set up to be robbed, beats him up; another, a stockbroker he sold bogus cocaine, thanks Jack for helping turn his life around; another, the mover Jack cuckolded, shrugs off his contrition on the grounds that his old lady was making it with everything in pants. But who reacted by shooting Jack in the mouth and the forehead? Accepting $1,000 from Greg Stillman to look into the people on Jack’s list, Scudder (All the Flowers Are Dying, 2005, etc.) is increasingly forced to confront his own attachment to the bottle and the certainty that Jack’s executioner doesn’t mind killing again.
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.