Lawrence Block,
Out on the Cutting Edge
(Avon, 1989)

It is really nice to have a friend who likes to read and who also likes to share a good book. That is how I stumbled upon this little gem. Actually it was tossed at me with a "here, read this." So, not being the argumentative type, I sat down and did just that. And I must say that Lawrence Block is a very gifted writer -- he managed to completely blind-side me with this intriguing and intricate plot. That doesn't happen too often, honest. Usually I've either figured it out, or at least have a strong suspicion. Not this time.

Matthew Scudder isn't exactly what one would call the cream of the crop. He used to be a cop -- and not a clean one. He used to drink a lot, but he's been going to AA for awhile and staying clear of the booze. He walked out on his wife and sons. However, his heart is in the right place, and when he begins a case he is quite tenacious. Matthew isn't exactly a private investigator -- not a licensed one at any rate -- but he gives good work for the buck!

When Paula Hoeldtke's father brings the case to Matthew, he isn't exactly anxious to take it. He knows that the chances of finding Paula are pretty slim, but he can also see the father is hurting and has nowhere else to turn. Finding a young "wanna-be" actress in New York, one who has been missing for roughly two months, with virtually no clues to go on is not going to be easy. Matthew puts his shoulder to the wall and begins to track down every little whisper.

Meanwhile, he is approached by a man from AA meetings, one who is trying very hard to stay clean. He hasn't led the most exemplary of lives, either, and is struggling with the fifth step of the program, one which deals with purging oneself of all the sins committed, be they real or imagined. Eddie asks Matthew to be his confessor, for he finds some solace in the thought of purging all his criminal acts to an ex-cop. Matthew has promised the same confidentiality that Eddie would find in a confessional, so he has no fears of being turned in.

Oddly enough, Eddie suddenly isn't at meetings anymore, nor does he call Matthew or answer his door. Matthew knows something has happened, and the apparent "accidental death" doesn't sit well with him when Eddie is found. Matthew must follow a hard trail; the search for Paula and the answers to Eddie's death both lead him through the seedy bars where he used to be a "two-fisted drinker."

Will determination be enough to see this gritty protagonist through to the end? When his new girlfriend kisses him, she tastes of Scotch ... or beer ... or cognac. The temptations are overwhelming, and become even more so as the wisps of a trail pull the threads of the two crimes closer and closer together. The same people, the same bars -- so many suspects, and none seem too concrete. You'll be amazed at the end of this novel, and at Lawrence's incredible plotting skill.

[ by Naomi de Bruyn ]
Rambles: 5 January 2002

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