Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (Lawrence Block, 1991)

I kind of liked Matt Scudder introductory book and decided to give a try to another one. Did some research and got impression that Dance At the Slaughterhouse is the best of the series. But now, after reading it, I just wander if my research techniques suck or maybe the rest of them are so bad. I certainly hope that latter is not true.

So Scudder is now 15 years older (I guess; first one was published in 1976) and he's not drinking anymore. Which is fine (good for him definitely) but the problem with this sobriety shit is that every few pages he needs to go to the AA meeting. I'm not sure to what purpose this habit serves narrative-wise but it sure doesn't help suspense building. And if you think he had replaced church visits with these AA meeting, you are wrong. But more about that later.

It starts with another of his unofficial employments or favors as he calls them. He's asked to do one for a young gay man dying of AIDS who's troubled by the death of his sister. It's a kind of perfect murder because even police knows that her husband did it but they cannot prove it. So far so good, we are all ready for Matthew to do some kick ass unorthodox investigating.

Not quite. Because, you see, in his spare time he gets involved into another mystery that includes - please, not again one of those - infamous snuff movies. In our (his) case these are even more disgusting because victims are young kids. But still, let's not be to hasty in our judgments and wait for plot(s) to start rolling.

They eventually do and - surprise, surprise! big fucking spoiler coming up - it turns out they are connected indeed. But they are linked in some totally far-fetched way that doesn't really make any sense when you think about it. But even that is not the biggest flaw.

Biggest flaw is that it simply doesn't move anywhere. Mr Block seems to have some literary complex because he's trying to write next Nobel prize kind of shit and not focusing at all on its "mystery/crime" aspect. He's working much more on dark and depressing atmosphere (which is awesome btw) and his characters relationships than on decent plotting. While stuff with Elaine is somehow at least bearable, the whole thing with his buddy Mick is just ridiculous. We have this stereotypical cartoonish Irish hard-drinking gangster with (of course) big golden heart and our AA hero has these childish moral dilemmas whether to is cool to hang out with him or not. And at the end they both go to the church to repent for their sins. Pleeeeese...

Little advice to finish this ranting - just skip entire 13th chapter (22 pages) because it contains nothing but some buddy-buddy babbling and it's got nothing to do with the plot.

Big disappointment!



Matt Scudder, ex-cop now, now P.I. freelancer. Unorthodox, even eccentric.

New York

Body count
Hard to count. 7 definitely (2 good, 5 bad) + one kid most probably + one pimp (but it's not clear whether his killing is related to our story)

AA meetings
at least 25

None really, certainly no femme fatales. There's a mysterious leather SM madam Olga and his call-girl/friend/fuck-buddy Elaine

Dull and not too accurate. It features celluloid film roll which is wrong because our snuff movie was found taped on VHS copy of Dirty Dozen.

None. He's not drinking anymore and is too cautious to get beaten

Cool lines
Pete's All-American has been there for generations but remains an unlikely candidate for the National Register of Historical Places. It has never been anything but a bucket of blood.

After we crossed the bridge the silence was only rarely interrupted. Maybe a locker room's like that in the minutes before a championship game. Or maybe not; in sports they don't shoot the losers.

    Black Money (Ross Macdonald, 1966)

    It starts slowly, in a classic style. Archer is hired by jealous high society youngster to dig up some dirt on mysterious Frenchman aristocrat to whose charms and influence his former fiance had succumbed. But of course things are not simple and sinister past soon starts to catch up with the present in the idyllic southern California. Skeletons crawl out of the closets and all the usual ingredients will come to life: fucked up families, sexual repressions, greed, Las Vegas gangsters (btw Black Money is a term for money laundry/tax evasion in casinos), messed-up academics types and so on.

    Story soon gets pretty convoluted (as it's supposed to) with some cool twists but at the same time it is really easy to follow. And there's just enough of the action that intriguing mystery is perfectly balanced with thriller. Ending is cool, filled with emotions and some moral dilemmas. Far from a simple matter of whodunit.

    Characters are never simple black/white, good/bad and they are described to perfection, especially introductions are hilarious. I really liked the old man and our villain/main suspect but star here is undoubtedly our favorite P.I. This was his 13th appearance and by now his persona is shaped and polished to the perfection. He's tough, smart, witty, cynical and not too sentimental. Just tired of all the dirt he'd dug out: "It was moral hardship for me to walk away from an unclosed case. … I think in my nighttime loneliness I’d fathered imaginary son, a poor fat foolish son who ate his sorrow instead of drinking it."

    It's a total masterpiece. Not so much for the complex and clever plotting but mostly for its execution. So elegant, natural and effortless. Stuff like this separates crime novels from simple mystery pulps and masters from mediocre authors. Simply flawless and mandatory re-reading!



    Lew Archer, P.I.

    Montevista, Southern California where "Almost anything can happen here. Almost everything has.It's partly the champagne climate and partly, to be frank, the presence of inordinate amount of money."

    Body count: 3

    Virginia Fablon; she's the reason for the whole thing to start although she's not playing major role once she's introduced.

    Nice, although maybe a bit too arty for my taste.Got nothing really to do with the plot.

    None, he's too cool and capable to get knocked out.

    Cool lines
    I could easily quote half of the novel, these are just a few of really cool ones:

    I caught the housekeeper glaring at the highball and the bottle as if they represented everything she hated. She had violent black eyes, and she looked like a good hater.

    She didn’t believe me. She looked like a woman who had stopped believing almost everything except the numbers on bills, the price tags on clothes and people.