After 40 years and 18 novels, Lawrence Block’s unlicensed New York City investigator Matthew Scudder has been absent for most of the past decade — in fact, since 2011’s “A Drop of the Hard Stuff.”
Because Block has chosen to age his seminal PI in real time, Scudder’s legion of fans could not be faulted for thinking he’s slipped quietly into retirement.
Which he largely had. Until now.
In “A Time to Scatter Stones” (Subterranean Press), Scudder isn’t exactly out of the game, but he’s definitely into semi-retirement — not actively searching for work, but not willing to avoid a job if one comes along for the right reason.
The former private investigator has been taking one day at a time, a philosophy that keeps him out of trouble and away from the bottle, when his live-in lover and former escort, Elaine, introduces him to Ellen, a friend from her own 12-step program — a group of former working professionals known as the Tarts who meet once a week for mutual support.
Ellen, in this novel, is what’s known as the right reason.
Actively trying to disengage herself from her erstwhile profession, Ellen has been successful — except for a man she knows only as Paul, an obsessive and abusive former client who forces her into hiding.
Ellen’s one hope for escape lies in Scudder, who, with nothing but a cell phone number, agrees to try to find Paul in a city of millions. Once found, it’ll be Scudder’s job to convince Paul that he’d be better off — and much healthier — if he were to forget Ellen ever existed.
As a well-developed novella, “A Time to Scatter Stones” is a fitting capstone to a long and successful career — if that’s what it is. Like his hero, Block never fails to surprise. The veteran author is gifted enough to leave the door cracked, and because of that, this book both feels and doesn’t feel like the end.
That’s no easy thing for a writer to pull off, but if all we had were this conclusion to Scudder’s story — replete with Block’s Craver-esque ear for dialogue and enough nostalgia from novels 1-18 to bestow authenticity — it would be a satisfying end.
Yet here’s hoping there’s more to come, even while knowing that if Block’s recovering alcoholic underworld investigator has yet another surprise for us, it’ll still be one too few.