For my first all-out venture into self-publishing, I’ve collected all the Matthew Scudder short stories, added two new pieces along with an introductory appreciation by screenwriter/director Brian Koppelman, and brought out the resulting volume as an eBook and Print-on-Demand trade paperback. Isn’t it pretty?
I wrapped the book up with an afterword (duh!) to tell a little about how and when the various stories were written, and where they appeared. And this page seemed an appropriate place to share it with you. Perhaps it will induce you to order the $2.99 eBook via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, or Smashwords. Or it might move you to order a signed copy of the trade paperback from one of the mystery booksellers listed on Matthew Scudder’s Page, or directly from LB’s Bookstore.
OTOH, if you’re not going to purchase The Night and the Music, at least the following will let you know what you’re missing…
ABOUT THESE STORIES
I began writing about Matthew Scudder in the early 1970s. My first marriage was in dissolution, and I was living alone in an apartment a block from Columbus Circle. I wrote out a series proposal, my agent made a deal with Dell, and the three books flowed from my typewriter one after another: The Sins of the Fathers, Time to Murder and Create, and In the Midst of Death.
Paperback distribution in general was problematic during those years, and Dell’s troubles were greater than most; they returned much of their manuscript inventory, paid for but unpublished, to authors and agents, and but for the personal enthusiasm of editor Bill Grose, Scudder might never have seen print.
The books were published, but distribution was spotty and sales slow, though people who read them seemed to like them well enough. Paperback originals don’t often get reviewed, but the three Scudder novels did receive a fair amount of critical attention, and Time to Murder and Create was shortlisted for an Edgar Allan Poe award.
But there was certainly no enthusiasm for continuing the series beyond the initial three books, and no reason to believe another publisher would want to take it over. It certainly looked as though I’d be well advised to turn my attention to other books, with other characters.
Scudder, I found, was not that easily abandoned. And so in 1977 I started writing a short story about him, “Out the Window,” and it ran long enough for us to call it a novelette. Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine ran it in their September issue, and two months later they printed another, “A Candle for the Bag Lady.” (The latter was briefly retitled “Like a Lamb to Slaughter,” so that it might serve as the flagship story of a collection with that title, and that’s a story in itself—but one I’ll save for another time.)
Those two novelettes helped keep the character alive for me. A couple of years later I took a chance and wrote a fourth full-length Scudder novel on spec, and Don Fine published it at Arbor House. That was A Stab in the Dark, followed in fairly short order by Eight Million Ways to Die.
That was a pivotal volume, for me and for Matthew Scudder. It was twice as long as the early books, and was as much about the dynamics of alcoholism and the general frailty of human existence as it was about the particular murder investigation which drove the plot. The book got a lot of critical attention; it was shortlisted for an Edgar and won a Shamus award outright. But while it looked like the start of something big, the party appeared to be over.
Because how could I go on writing about Scudder? In a sense, the five books and two stories amounted to a single mega-novel, and it had all been resolved in Eight Million Ways to Die. By confronting and owning up to his alcoholism, my protagonist had come to terms with the central problem of his existence. He’d had a catharsis, and what human being, fictional or otherwise, gets more than one of those?
I figured I was done with Scudder. His d’etre, you might say, had lost its raison. I wished it were otherwise, as I enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes and writing in his voice, but I wasn’t willing to force a book into existence.
And that might very well have been the end of it—if not for the third story in this volume, By the Dawn’s Early Light.
Some years before, Robert J. Randisi told me he was hoping to find a publisher for a collection of original private eye stories. If he managed to do so, would I agree to write a story for the volume? It seemed safe enough to say yes, since the likelihood of my ever hearing further seemed remote at best.
But Bob, the indefatigable founder of Private Eye Writers of America, came to me not long after the publication of Eight Million Ways to Die to report success. He’d sold his anthology to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Press, and now he wanted a story from me.
I explained that I seemed to be done with Scudder. Bob was disappointed but understanding. Otto was also understanding, but this didn’t stop him from whining and coaxing and wheedling. I explained it was out of the question, and then I went home and figured out how to do it. The story could be a flashback, with a sober Scudder recounting an event from his drinking days.
It worked rather well. Alice Turner snapped it up for Playboy, Bob tucked it into his anthology, and MWA gave it an Edgar for Best Short Story. And then a year later I added a couple of additional plot threads to the story and expanded it from 8500 words to 90,000; the resultant novel, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, is the favorite of a good number of Scudder fans.
It was to take several years before I found myself able to continue the real-time Scudder saga, with his story continuing in his sober years. I picked him up in 1989, with Out on the Cutting Edge, and the books have continued to follow at reasonably regular intervals. In 2011, I went back to fill in a gap; A Drop of the Hard Stuff, while framed with a late-night conversation between Matt and Mick Ballou, takes place in 1982-3, a year or so after Matt leaves an untouched drink on the bar at the end of Eight Million Ways to Die.
And over the years I’ve continued to write short fiction starring Matthew Scudder. “Batman’s Helpers” grew out of a friend’s experience in street-level trademark enforcement; Bob Randisi found room for it in Justice For Hire. “The Merciful Angel of Death” was written in response to the AIDS crisis, and appeared in New Mystery, Jerome Charyn’s International Association of Crime Writers anthology.
I’ve since become friends with Howard Mandel, the jazz authority, but hadn’t yet met him when he got in touch through my agent; Howard was promoting a local jazz festival, and thought a short jazz-oriented piece from me, featuring Matt Scudder, might provide a nice highlight for the festival program. “The Night and the Music” was the result, more a vignette than a story, but I liked the way it turned out, and the sense it provided of Matt and Elaine and their particular part of the city. Over the years, it’s come to be my performance piece; I tent to trot it out when a short reading is called for.
The next three stories are similar in structure. In each, Scudder looks back on an incident in the past, from his days first as a patrolman and then a detective with the NYPD. In “Looking For David,” it’s the killer’s motive which only comes to light years later, when Matt and Elaine encounter him in Florence. “Let’s Get Lost,” its title drawn from Chet Baker’s haunting song, recalls an ex-officio bit of police work, dating back to when Matt was a married cop and Elaine his hooker girlfriend. And “A Moment of Wrong Thinking” puts the spotlight on Vince Mahaffey, the veteran plainclothes officer with whom Matt was partnered in his early days in Brooklyn. There are references to Mahaffey in several of the novels, but this gives us a closer look at him.
All three of these stories appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
“Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen” was inspired by the final episode of The Sopranos, and was written to be the text of a limited-edition broadside produced by Mark Lavendier. Aside from that appearance, it is published here for the first time. Like “The Night and the Music,” it’s more a vignette than a story, but chronicles an important and perhaps surprising development in Ballou’s life. (Though Elaine swears she saw it coming…)
Finally, “One Last Night at Grogan’s” brings Matt and Elaine Scudder together with Mick and Kristin Ballou for an evening rich in nostalgia and revelation, one more night with music. The story was written specifically for inclusion in this volume, and has never appeared anywhere before.