A Drop of the Hard Stuff By Lawrence Block

I am a huge fan of Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries but had never read one of his Matthew Scudder books. I read Ian Rankin’s books and follow him on Twitter and he highly recommended this book – well I know why now. The book starts with a couple of old men in a pub in Hell’s Kitchen and they are reminiscing about the old days. They have basically lived their lives on either side of the law and they get to talking about someone the cop knew from his childhood days in the Bronx. This other man, Jack, went the way of the crook and even though he didn’t cross paths with Scudder as a criminal, he did later on whilst trying to make amends as part of his 12 step programme.

We then move to much earlier in Scudder’s career when he had already left the Force and was nearly a year into his sobriety. It is also interesting to note the detail that Block puts into the emotional and physical side of Scudder’s recovery. We are made aware of the very thoughts that go through his head when he is near a bar or even in places he has had experiences whilst drunk are fascinating. Anyway, Jack approaches him after an AA meeting and they get to talking. Jack is in the stage of his sobriety where he is trying to make up for all the wrong he has done. The problem with this is there is a lot to try to work out. He has used and dealt drugs, he has robbed and he may also have murdered. His sponsor is aware of some of his past but certainly no details. As you have probably figured out, Jack ends up dead.

Jack’s sponsor hires Matt to try to figure out if it was due to his list of people he was trying to amends to as he feels a certain responsibility in encouraging this behaviour. There are quite a few people on the list that Matt is given but he is determined himself to find out the answers to the questions that arose during the last days of Jack’s life. From here we go into some pretty murky worlds and meet some awful characters. Jack has done a pretty good job of getting in front of people, especially those he never even met.

Throughout this story, Matt is dealing with his own demons as well as a girlfriend he may or may not be finished with and regular AA meetings throughout New York. He is an interesting person who is willing to try to do the right thing because he knows he has screwed up a lot of things including his marriage. I am ready to go back and read some more of his books because not only are the stories great but the main character has more than one dimension too.

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