The pretty young prostitute is dead. Her alleged murderer -- a minister's son -- hanged himself in his jail cell. The case is closed. But the dead girl's father has come to Matthew Scudder for answers, sending the unlicensed private investigator in search of terrible truths about a life that was lived and lost in a sordid world of perversion and pleasures.
Block has been getting better and better in recent Matt Scudder novels, but as this first hardcover version of a 16-year-old paperback shows, he was pretty good from the start. King's admiring introduction is generous but by no means overstated. This tale, which introduced the then-hard-drinking ex-cop, is spare and lean and full of dark insights into lonesomeness and anguish. The father of murdered Wendy Hanniford comes to Scudder to try to find out more about his errant daughter--not to find her killer, who was apparently her living partner, a brittle young man who was found in the street raving and covered with her blood and who killed himself shortly after he was arrested. In his dour, methodical, oddly empathetic way, Scudder finds out a great deal, altering several lives in the process. As always in the Scudder books, New York City--its small-hours bars, its jokey, edgy encounters--is a major character; as in the later books, too, Block's style is admirable: free of gimmicks, plain but utterly telling in every line. This is a fine opportunity to get in on the start of what has become one of the most rewarding PI series currently in progress. (May) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 29, 2002
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Excerpt from The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block
He was a big man, about my height with a little more flesh on his heavy frame. His eyebrows, arched and prominent, were still black. The hair on his head was iron gray, combed straight back, giving his massive head a leonine appearance. He had been wearing glasses but had placed them on the oak table between us. His dark brown eyes kept searching my face for secret messages. If he found any, his eyes didn't reflect them. His features were sharply chiseled -- a hawk-bill nose, a full mouth, a craggy jawline -- but the full effect of his face was as a blank stone tablet waiting for someone to scratch commandments on it.
He said, "I don't know very much about you, Scudder."
I knew a little about him. His name was Cale Hanniford. He was around fifty-five years old. He lived upstate in Utica where he had a wholesale drug business and some real estate holdings. He had last year's Cadillac parked outside at the curb. He had a wife waiting for him in his room at the Carlyle.
He had a daughter in a cold steel drawer at the city mortuary.
"There's not much to know," I said. "I used to be a cop."
"An excellent one, according to Lieutenant Koehler."
"And now you're a private detective."
"Private detectives are licensed. They tap telephones and follow people. They fill out forms, they keep records, all of that. I don't do those things. Sometimes I do favors for people. They give me gifts."
I took a sip of coffee. I was drinking coffee spiked with bourbon. Hanniford had a Dewar's and water in front of him but wasn't taking much interest in it. We were in Armstrong's, a good sound saloon with dark wood walls and a stamped tin ceiling. It was two in the afternoon on the second Tuesday in January, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. A couple of nurses from Roosevelt Hospital were nursing beers at the far end of the bar, and a kid with a tentative beard was eating a hamburger at one of the window tables.
He said, "It's difficult for me to explain what I want you to do for me, Scudder."
"I'm not sure that there's anything I can do for you. Your daughter is dead. I can't change that. The boy who killed her was picked up on the spot. From what I read in the papers, it couldn't be more open-and-shut if they had the homicide on film." His face darkened; he was seeing that film now, the knife slashing. I went on quickly. "They picked him up and booked him and slapped him in the Tombs. That was Thursday " He nodded. "And Saturday morning they found him hanging in his cell. Case closed."