For some reason, Matt Scudder can't seem to stop thinking about the murders of wealthy New Yorkers Byrne and Susan Hollander. Perhaps it's because he and his wife Elaine attended the same dinner and concert at the Lincoln Center as the couple mere hours before their murder. Or maybe the quick resolution of the case, with the two burglars turned murderers found dead in a locked Brooklyn apartment days later, bothered him. Whatever the reason, Scudder becomes increasingly obsessed with the case, and starts to suspect the shadowy presence of a third killer, hiding in the wings and directing the action. The deeper he digs, the more wrong the case feels, and the more convinced he becomes that the Hollander murders were just the beginning.
So begins Lawrence Block's fifteenth novel starring unlicensed private detective and recovering alcoholic Matthew Scudder. His brief period of licensed respectability ended when he gave up his license in the previous novel, and he's back on familiar ground, doing "favors" for people who give him cash "gifts" in return. Because he and Elaine live comfortably on her diverse real estate investments, he has the luxury of looking into a closed case with, at the beginning anyway, no real client.
Like all of his Scudder mysteries, Lawrence Block wrote Hope to Die in the first person from Scudder's point of view. However, there are several segments of the novel where the reader needs to witness events that Scudder himself cannot. He solves this dilemma in two ways, both effective. The first is the actual events leading up to and including the brutal murders themselves. Block gives us the events as Scudder imagines them happening, after the fact. Scudder himself admits that it's all conjecture, and that one of the problems with that kind of reconstruction is that there are always multiple scenarios that fit the known evidence.
Interspersed throughout the rest of the book, however, are several passages written in the third person, from the killer's point of view, a first for the Scudder series. In much the same way Robert B. Parker included third person segments in Crimson Joy, Block gives us insight into the killer's mind that we could never get through Scudder's narrative. And Block does a masterful job of showing us the killer in all his glory in these segments, without giving up his identity too early and spoiling the joy of following Scudder's investigation. With each new fact Scudder learns, there's another suspect that could easily fit into what the third person segments show us of the killer.
As always, Block uses the first person point of view to explore Scudder's inner turmoil, and with it our own darker natures. Alcoholism, never far from Scudder's thoughts, comes forcefully to the forefront as he confronts his own demons with the death of his ex-wife. His forced to come to terms with the grown sons he barely knows, and fears for the one who is far too much like himself for comfort.
Hope to Die lacks the kind of fast-paced action one might expect based on some of Block's other novels, but the twists and turns of the plot do not fail to draw the reader in. While I would not recomend this as the first book in the series to pick up, I think every fan of Matt Scudder will enjoy it. The killer definitely one of Block's best villains to date, showing once again the tremendous understanding the author has of our very darkest natures.
Block, Lawrence. Hope to Die. William Morrow. 2001.