A Touch of the Hard Stuff
A Matthew Scudder Mystery
Lawrence Block
Mulholland Books 2011
336 pages

A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Lawrence Block’s seventeenth Matt Scudder story, is in every way classic Block and classic Scudder. Like When The Sacred Gin Mill Closes, A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a flash back novel told years after the fact by Scudder as he and Mick Ballou stay up too late talking and telling stories. It helps a little bit if you are a Matt Scudder fan then you would have a real feel for how far back Mick Ballou and Matt Scudder go back and how much they have been through both but it is not a necessity to enjoying this novel.

Stephen King has called Lawrence Block the successor to John D. Macdonald which is a huge compliment and King is not the only person who feels that way. Block s gift for story telling and keeping the audience faithful is two fold. Block writes simply with a real feel for the NYC setting that is both frank and loving. A Drop of the Hard Stuff is tied tightly to the AA 12 step program and is reminiscent of Out on the Cutting Edge (the apparent suicide of AA member Eddie Dunphy) but is a much stronger novel as it pursues the almost invisible threads of a murder investigation which the police have already admitted has gone cold.

In A Drop of the Hard Stuff a one time felon who has found a new way of life via the religious drinking cessation program AA turn up dead. There are no leads. Despite the obvious lack of leads Scudder is entreated to take on the case. In typical P.I. fashion the patient and steadfast Scudder picks, digs and an investigation starts to look like a possibility. A mystery novel would not be complete without a secondary story and here in spades is the story of Matthew and Jan and how their lives were affected by drinking, sobriety and anniversaries.

One of the difficulties when reading any Matt Scudder novel is the tendency to compare it to When the Sacred Ginmill Closes which is unfair. A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a solid and well written mystery novel with a good ending and in every way a solid addition to the Matthew Scudder series.

Other Lawrence Block mystery novels reviewed here: Killing Castro   Grifter’s Game   Hit and Run