WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES by Lawrence Block

WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0380728257
Page count: 387pp
Publisher: Arbor House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1986




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