By Lawrence Block

Morrow, HC, Oct. 1998

Reviewed by Anthony Smith

Of course Larry Block is at the top of the heap in the crime genre. He's a real pro. I especially loved last year's HIT MAN about his character Keller. And even though I haven't read all the Scudder novels, the ones I have stick with me. WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES is just a classic novel all around, while A DANCE AT THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE is dark crime work on all cylinders. Okay, I'm not a Burglar or Tanner fan, but whatever floats people's boats, right? What I'm saying is Block knows what he's doing, most of the time.

And then there are books like EVERYBODY DIES, the latest Scudder novel featuring the long time sober and now married New York detective, who this time is called into action reluctantly to help his friend, crime boss Mick Ballou, when a mysterious enemy begins killing Mick's employees and soon goes after Matt, resulting in the loss of another of Matt's friends. Reluctantly, that is, because of a new squeamishness I see in Scudder this time. But after a hundred pages, this novel picks up heat and speed. I think it's not all that bad, and Scudder fans will be satisfied once again. It's violent, but not so much as before. Most of all, the story explores what people do for friendship. And there are plenty of gunfights, too.

However, this is a slow book. That slowness seems to be caused by quite a bit of talking between characters, usually concerned with feelings and doubts, usually Matt trying to clarify his emotions on particular subjects. Lots of talk with Elaine, his wife. And a whole chapter, after the murder of a friend who was close to Matt, filled with "If only" statements ("If only I'd cancelled dinner...If only the past were subject to change..."). There is a lot of this overwriting here, things I can't get over thinking would have been better left out. Sure, I want flaws and depth in my characters, but not done like this. Talking about feelings doesn't do it for me. Telling the reader about those feelings, same result. There was a moral flux to the Scudder of GINMILL, one that made him an interesting character, someone to sympathize with even if we disagreed with his actions. But the new, older, sober, settled Scudder is a bit too introspective and self-conscious.

Block is a great one who has written great books, so for that, I will mark EVERYBODY DIES as an average effort while waiting for his next Scudder or Keller, see what comes to his mind next.

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