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

The Devil Knows You're Dead - Lawrence Block This one redeemed the Scudder series for me. I understand why other readers might feel it doesn't compare with its immediate predecessors: very little violence, no emotional attachment to the victim and almost no blood, although Matt does seem to be in several sorts of emotional danger. However, the emotional subplots are the trimmings that elevate the Scudder series above ordinary noir detective or mystery thriller going for the roller-coaster climb, and its why the Scudder series consistently yields such satisfying reads.Elaine and Scudder are settling into a solid companionship, and she convinces him to go on a couple-date with Lisa, a woman she met in an art class, and her husband, Glenn. While the women hit it off, the men don't, despite Glenn's obvious enthusiasm for Matt's work. In the next few weeks, Glenn runs into Scudder a few times, ostensibly to discuss writing a book. Matt would rather avoid him--there's something sly and sneaky about ol' Glenn. Shockingly, Glenn is gunned down while making a call at a public telephone not long after they meet. Police are certain they have the killer, a homeless guy who is mostly living in the Vietnam war. The suspect's brother and Lisa both entreat Scudder to get involved, and he finds himself unenthusiastically conducting an investigation. An exchange from when Scudder meets up with Durkin perfectly summarizes the police reaction:"You know what's wrong with the case, Joe?""The only thing wrong with it is you're taking an interest. Aside from that it's perfect."Scudder's ex, Jan, reappears from the past with some significant life events and blows him into a tailspin. There are some fascinating conversations that sound emotionally authentic around Jan's storyline. However, the whiff of carpe diem has an unanticipated effect on Scudder's decision-making. While I can understand some of his reasoning, I don't respect his behavior. Others may have found their squirm point in prior books; this one had mine. It's a measure of Block's skill as a writer that he can create such conflict in the reader about the justification of Matt's actions. Elaine doesn't even know the half of it when she exclaims, "You've got him buying guns and selling dope and hanging out with transsexuals. You're a wonderful positive influence on the boy."I love that Block is willing to be judgement-neutral with his characters, whether gender-bending Julia, TJ's fascination with her, or the lawyer Kaplan figuring out how to best serve his client. Almost everyone's a little dirty in this one, except the charming elderly publisher who hired Glenn. Listening to a murderer explain why assisting a suicide is morally wrong was fascinating, and almost understandable. As a by-product, the investigation gives us a little insight into a transsexual's life, and I respect Block for not playing up the freak/shock factor. Likewise, he treats the homeless and mentally ill suspect with a great deal of sensitivity. The suspect's brother perfectly summarizes why the suspect should be free if he isn't guilty: "I don't want to glamorize the life he leads, make him sound like some kind of Noble Savage. It's a horrible life. He lives like an animal, he lives in fear and torment... I wouldn't live his life for the world, but it's his life, do you follow me? It's his f-ing life so let him f-ing live it."Levity was added in Block's usual sly asides, including an insult about the Big Book of AA, which Scudder describes as "the sophistication level was that of a Rotary Club Breakfast in a small town in Iowa." Snerk. Then there was the off-handed slap at Block's competitors: "I didn't think there was a policeman or private detective anywhere in New York who wasn't trying to get a book published. Nobody's out looking for criminals these days. They are all looking for agents."Thankfully, Block found a good one.