Last night on The Late Late Show, crime writer Lawrence Block made one of his periodic visits from the East Coast to chat with his pal Craig Ferguson. He was promoting his new novel, A Drop of the Hard Stuff, a terrific new addition to Block’s series of mysteries featuring private detective Matt Scudder.
The conversation between the two men was lovely — relaxed and funny. Block had spiffed up a bit for this visit, wearing a nice suit and a bright green tie. When Ferguson teased him about his tie and asked Block whether he stole hotel soap when he was on a book tour, it was easy to understand why — as Craig pointed out in his introduction, A Drop of the Hard Stuff is dedicated to Craig and the host’s wife.
Ferguson observed that the character of Scudder is “an alcoholic, ex-policeman detective in New York,” and said blithely to the author, “And of course you were a notorious drunk for years.”
Hell-o! This conversation just got more intriguing, fast. “Well, not notorious — pathetic,” hedged Ferguson. Block, ever the wordsmith, revised his self-description further: “Disgusting.” “Okay, you were a disgusting drunk for many years, and now you’re not.” Block nodded in agreement.
One of the cool things about A Drop of the Hard Stuff, which I just finished reading and recommend highly as one of the finest in the entire Scudder series, is its narrative hook. A dead man, who was a recovering alcoholic, leaves behind a list of people to whom he has or would have made amends — the formal apologies one makes if one has reached the ninth step in Alcoholics Anonymous. That amends list becomes, in effect, a list of suspects, clues to the murder Scudder tries to solve.
The novel, more than any other in recent memory including Tom Shone’s new, clever In the Rooms, uses the backdrop of AA meetings (to which Scudder goes like a grateful addict to the safest cure he can find) to situate the drama. The timing for A Drop of the Hard Stuff is impeccable, since it arrives at a moment when many are questioning just how anonymous AA members should or need to be, as evidenced by a recent, conversation-provoking piece in The New York Times last Sunday, “Challenging the Second ‘A’ in A.A.”
Ferguson and Block noted that the writer hadn’t written a Matt Scudder book in a long time, but “someone” had been going “on and on” at him about writing a new one. A patented wink and a leer at the camera from Ferguson let you know he was this persistent instigator.
Thus, Craig has been partly responsible for adding to the good literature in the world.
One book at a time, so to speak.