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“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
― Voltaire

A Long Line of Dead Men - Lawrence Block Number 12 in a series and you would think Block might be running out of ideas. But no--he's an idea genius. The latest mystery surrounds a secret club of 31 men which has been meeting annually for decades. When the club is down to one surviving man, he recruits a group of 30 to carry on the tradition. Why? No one knows. To be a spot to share secrets. To make a connection with history. To acknowledge the passage of time (Or, as Elaine points out, to be masculine). Unfortunately, members have been dying at a rate much faster than an actuarial table would predict. One of the survivors comes to Scudder, looking for some help. The mystery is interesting enough, although once again, the killer was relatively easy to figure out before the end. Since I'm not the kind of reader that usually knows, it means Block was more than a little obvious. Nonetheless, it was a good story, propelled by a number of character development issues and enjoyable dialogue. One of the things I love about the Scudder books is how issues and historical context is woven into the story. There's a nice little bit about the sudden predominance of trees in the city, when Scudder can remember the days where one would have to go to Central Park to see the trees. Sure, you lose a few to pollution and trucks, he acknowledges. But they are tough, and some survive. Anyone whose walked the streets in Manhattan has seen those stragglers trying to grow. "Some of us see the glass half full. I see it three-fourths empty, and some days it's all I can do to keep my hands off it."Oh, the dialogue was a pleasure this time, especially the sections with Durkin. He and Scudder spend a few minutes getting a little philosophical about lying in service of the higher good.Then there's Durkin without cigarettes:"You want to get even with somebody, either you whip out a gun and make a little noise or you tear into him with a baseball bat, break his bones, and beat his fu*king brains out. Something wrong?''Remind me never to get you mad at me.''Why, did I sound like I was really getting into it there?' He grinned. 'I'm ten days off cigarettes.'"In fact, Durkin is really on a roll:"'Twelve years between Uhl and Watson,' he said, 'you're talking about a killer who likes to take his time. The other twenty-six guys, time he gets around to them they'll be too old to care. You know what he's like, this guy? He's prostate cancer. By the time he kills you you're already dead of something else.'"Of course, TJ has his own take on the club, reflecting the perspective of an urban street-wise young man of color:"'Thirty-two years,' he said. 'You couldn't start a club like that on the Deuce. Never mind no thirty-two years. 'Fore you knew it, you wouldn't have nobody left to have a meeting with. The ones that wasn't dead themselves, they most likely be locked up for killin' the other ones... Group of dudes I knew four, five years ago, half of 'em's dead. Didn't take no thirty-two years, neither. Dyin' must be easy, when I think of all the dudes caught on real quick how to do it.'While he is working the cold cases of club members, Scudder is pondering a number life choices. Should he go private? He's continuing to take a few cases for the agency, including an unfortunate one involving Velcro. Elaine has some words of advice: "'I don't think you want it,' she said. 'I think you feel you ought to want it, but you don't, and that's what upsets you. But it's your call.'" Pleasantly intricate dialogue for a mystery. A number of secondary characters continue to act as sounding boards for Scudder. As usual, their characterization shines, from Martin, the despondent head of the (in)security firm, to the defense lawyer Hard-Way Ray. (If there's one person I'd love to have a glass of whiskey with as he tells stories about Ireland, it would be Mick).He's also still seeing Lisa in this book, and it takes on even stronger creep overtones as he muses on her incestuous history. Knowing that Scudder knows it and still continues to see her is extremely uncomfortable to read, like he is accepting the role of the father. Ignoring the fact that he is cheating on Elaine (almost impossible to do), the fact that he continues to have sex with Lisa despite knowing that he's duplicating a harmful pattern really lowers him in my eyes, pushing him into anti-hero territory.An emotionally satisfying ending, though a bit preposterous. Felt more like a push to continue locating Scudder into morally-bankrupt hero territory then an honest mystery solution. I just have doubts that eight average Americans would go for it. Granted, the lawyer has the inside view on the system and knows all the tricks to get someone off, as we've learned earlier. However, I think the members would have second and third thoughts, and possibly reconsider. If nothing else, it would forever change the tone of the meeting and the relationship between them. Overall, three and a half stars--good and leaning to the up side.What are you waiting for? Go getThe Sins of the Fathers and get started.