There was a point where I hadn’t even considered it, and another point where I knew for certain that it was going to happen, and the two points had been placed remarkably close together in time.
Hard to say exactly why it happened…
Writing a series without an expiration date, like James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux or Lawrence Block’s Scudder’s is a breakneck thing to do. There are so many ways to get boring and repetitive and yet, if your character is your trademark, he’s also your lifeline. While the two first Scudder novels, THE SINS OF THE FATHERS and TIME TO MURDER AND CREATE, were rather straightforward murder investigation, Lawrence Block raises the stakes and offers something completely new for the third installment of his series. There is a murder investigation to IN THE MIDST OF DEATH, but it’s part of a larger, deeper, more complex narrative that shows the strength of the chains that binds the ex-cop to his old life. Scudder is not just an wounded observer anymore. That’s my kind of character progression. With masterful patience and timing, Block shows you the other half of Matthew Scudder for a few hundred pages. The part he doesn’t want you to see.
The novel starts as Scudder pays a visit to a blackmailing prostitute named Portia Carr on behalf of his client, a certain Jerry Broadfield. Only problem, she turns up dead a few pages later and Broadfield is arrested for murder. When visiting his client in jail, he claims he’s been set up by the police, because he collaborated with Special Prosecutor Abner Prejanian on a police corruption affair. The policemen Scudder still know in the force all think Broadfield’s an asshole and wish him a fate worse than death, regardless whether or not he killed Portia Carr. Smells enough like foul play for Scudder and he decides to dig deeper. When you go back to the life you walked away from, you can’t go back and not expect ghosts to gnaw away at you. Scudder puts the quiet and fragile inner balance he found in his drifting lifestyle on the line, so he can make things right for his client.
Matthew Scudder is such a successful character because he keeps running away from who he is, but his line of work keeps bringing the truth back to him. He would probably live a peaceful life if he decided to be a brick layer, but he know how to do only one thing, sniff out the wolves in sheep clothing and putting them behind bars. While finding Portia Carr’s murderer is necessary to his investigation this time, it’s not what the novel is about. IN THE MIDST OF DEATH is about the illusion of the thin blue line. The more human and often uglier side of the police. What drove Scudder away from the force was his own fallibility, when he killed by mistake young Estrellita Rivera while pursuing robbers when off-duty. Being confronted to that trait in the policemen he meets for his investigation will weight extremely heavy on his shoulders:
A gradual process, death. Someone had stabbed her to death forty-eight hours ago in this very apartment, but her voice still answered the telephone.
I called two more times just to hear her voice. I didn’t leave any messages. Then I had another can of beer and the rest of the bourbon and crawled into his bed and slept…