The Devil Knows You're Dead - Lawrence Block One thing about the Matt Scudder books is that you'll learn a lot about AA and the relationship between an alcoholic and his mentor. This one in particular seems to have more about the different types of meetings, what transpires, and the sub-culture of alcoholics working to stay sober. Now, I'm not a drinker, being overly concerned with control, never wanting to cede what little gray matter I have to some external drug, so I have no way of knowing how accurate or what Block's history with AA might be, but it certainly rings true.

In this novel, our relationship to death also plays a significant role. Jan, an old friend of Matt's, has asked him to get her an untraceable gun so she can kill herself. She has pancreatic cancer and has been given less than a year to live and she doesn't want to go through the decline and pain of the illness. This leads to a long discussion between Matt and his mentor about death as another of God's design flaws.

The Scudder novels differ greatly from other PI novels where the hero can consume copious quantities of straight scotch and then thread a needle with great precision, a la Spenser (not true of Parker's Jesse Stone, however, whose career in L.A. homicide is destroyed by alcohol.) The true demon in the Scudder series is alcohol and Matt's constant battle with that scourge. Self-denial becomes a huge backdrop to his other actions when he falls off the wagon (A Stab in the Dark,) "maintenance drinking," he called it. By A Devil Knows You're Dead, Scudder is still wrestling with those temptations, and trying to deal with the death of his friend, but more successfully. It's noteworthy that his girlfriend, Elaine, is a hooker, another of society's outcasts, but who seems to have a more perspicacious view of the world than most others. Block has said in an interview that he wanted to see how Scudder would develop as a character if he stopped drinking. The Scudder series, I think, is his best in dealing with the dark impulses and pressures of society.

I've read a smattering of his other series: Ehrengraf is good if more light-hearted but consciously amoral; Keller is lots of fun but decidedly even more amoral; the Chip Harrison series never grabbed me, and Tanner often gets a little ridiculous even as he pokes fun at society. I love the Bernie Rhodenbarr series; they are quite amusing. How Block manages to juggle all these characters is marvelous and astonishing.