Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is the eleventh Matthew Scudder mystery novel by Lawrence Block. Also known for his Burglar series, Block has in Matthew Scudder the perfect hard-boiled detective. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is Block in very fine form but less a mystery than a character study of the detective.

News York businessman Glenn Holtzmann is gunned down while in a phone booth. A homeless Vietnam veteran is accused of the murder. The veteran’s brother hires Matthew Scudder to find out if his brother really is the killer. Scudder reluctantly takes the case as is seems pretty open and shut.

What adds to the mystery is Holtzmann and his wife Lisa were social acquaintances of Scudder and his girlfriend Elaine. Though little progress is done in terms of whether or not the homeless man is the killer, Scudder soon discovers Glenn Holtzmann was not at all the man he pretended to be. Did that have anything to do with his murder.

The detective work in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is almost background to Matthew Scudder as character. Block almost spends more time on Scudder’s various ruminations and relationships than on the detective work itself. This is not, however, to the detriment of the murder inquiry.

This works because Scudder is a strong, interesting character with a very varied and interesting world around him. Lawrence Block is in fine form here. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a fine, fine read.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
A Matthew Scudder Mystery
Lawrence Block
Originally published 1997

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