A demented serial killer is shocking the "Big Apple" with death threats sent to the Daily News. When one of Matt's old friends is named as the next victim, the private eye suddenly finds himself matching wits with the wily murderer
Marriage to his old flame, Elaine, seems to have mellowed Block's veteran PI, Matt Scudder. He still continues to get his man with a combination of doggedness and occasional flashes of inspiration, but his life has become too cozy to make him the absorbing companion he used to be. Quiet domestic evenings spent talking things over with Elaine in Block's patented delightful dialogue alternate with thoughtful discussions, in this case, with the two perpetrators in the book, who give themselves up without a murmur. Voices are never raised; not even a roscoe barks. It's all too civilized, as if Scudder's formerly gritty world were moving closer to that of Block's much slighter series hero, the daffy burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. There are two plots here, ingeniously intertwined: one involves a serial killer taking out notable bad guys to the delight of the New York press, particularly a pushy columnist who gets to publish the man's gloating notes; the other concerns the mysterious killing, in broad daylight on a park bench, of a friend of a friend of Scudder's who's in the last stages of AIDS and has a complicated insurance arrangement. As usual, Block's ingenuity in finding new motives for crime is endless, his narration polished, his entertainment value high. What is missing here is the violence, or the constant threat of it, that made Scudder's earlier appearances memorable. The ending, involving Scudder's streetwise sidekick TJ, is downright sentimental. Brace up, Block! (Feb.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 01, 1998
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Excerpt from Even the Wicked by Lawrence Block
On a Tuesday night in August I was sitting in the living room with TJ, watching two guys hit each other on one of the Spanish-language cable channels, and enjoying the fresh air more than the fight. A heat wave had punished the city for two weeks, finally breaking over the weekend. Since then we'd had three perfect days, with bright blue skies and low humidity and the temperature in the seventies. You'd have called it ideal weather anywhere; in the middle of a New York summer, you could only call it a miracle.
I'd spent the day taking advantage of the weather, walking around the city. I got home and showered in time to drop into a chair and let Peter Jennings explain the world to me. Elaine joined me for the first fifteen minutes, then went into the kitchen to start dinner. TJ dropped by just around the time she was adding the pasta to the boiling water, insisting that he wasn't hungry and couldn't stay long anyway. Elaine, who had heard this song before, doubled the recipe on the spot, and TJ let himself be persuaded to take a plate and clean it several times.
"Trouble is," he told her, "you too good of a cook. Now on, I wait to come by until mealtimes is come and gone. I don't watch out, I be fat."
He has a ways to go. He's a street kid, lean and limber, indistinguishable at first glance from any of the young blacks you'll see hanging around Times Square, shilling for the monte dealers, running short cons, looking for a way to get over, or just to get by. He's much more than that as well, but for all I know there may be more to many of them than meets the eye. He's the one I know; with the others, all I get to see is what's on the surface.
And TJ's own surface, for that matter, is apt to change, chameleonlike, with his surroundings. I have watched him slip effortlessly from hip-hop street patter to a Brooks Brothers accent that would not be out of place on an Ivy League campus. His hairstyle, too, has varied over the several years I've known him, ranging from an old-style Afro through assorted versions of the high-top fade. A year or so ago he started helping Elaine at her shop, and on his own decided that a kinder, gentler 'do was more appropriate. He's kept it cropped relatively short ever since, while his dress ranges from the preppy outfits he wears to work to the in-your-face attire they favor on the Deuce. This evening he was dressed for success in khakis and a button-down shirt. A day or two earlier, when I'd seen him last, he was a vision in baggy camo trousers and a sequined jacket.