3: In The Midst Of Death

Like many a regular Freakytrigger feature, my chronological, collecting reviews of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder novels has recently dried a touch. Not completely due to my own crapness: for the more basic problem that the third book In The Midst Of Death was impossible to find. Remember my own rules restricted me to the Orion editions that I came across ina shop. London failed me. So as this project floundered I broke my own rules and went to the Amazon marketplace and for the princely sum of ‘0.72 + postage I got myself a copy.

It was the wrong edition (and different tothat pictured). A not inconsiderable part of this project was to have a shelf full of books that all look like they should live together. Anal, but this was me trying on collecting for size. I had turned down the gift of a couple of Block’s from Tim for this very reason. So now I have this dilemma. If I find In The Midst Of Death in teh right edition do I buy it? And what do I do with my perfectly readable, perfectly serviceable older copy. Well what I do in the short term is review the blasted thing.

Still hard drinking, not seeing his family and tithing to churches, the Matt of In The Midst Of Death is probably the point at which all the later character developments are a reaction against. It is clear that the drinking, the tithing are just convenient tics for character colour – though Block is starting to realise that extrapolating some of these might lead to more interesting writing. He is not there yet, and this is a slim novel because of it. Elaine does turn up briefly, as a source on prostitution, and as a contrast between Scudder and his bent cop client. The book is still, for better or worse, the mystery.

A plot which muses on celebrity (much as his big New York novel “Small Town” does) and corruption. Matt’s past as a cop is always presented as principled but pragmatic. He took the odd bribe where it greased wheels. Block examines this with a cop who takes sexual bribes, and is trying to expose corruption. But clearly nothing is what it seems, and in this case Block is still playing the game by the classic rules. Therefore if you apply the rule of the least likely, you will almost certainly guess who did it. I did. (4/10)