Lawrence Block’s The Night and the Music has a kind of finality to it that his many readers will be sorry about. Not a finality suggesting that he’s about to hang up his pen, but that it might be closing time for his most famous creation, Matt Scudder….
Block is one of the easiest writers to read that you’ll ever have the good fortune to come across. He doesn’t seem to write prose so much as invite you to listen to him (or Matt Scudder) talk. You’re engaged in a conversation. And while admittedly you can’t talk back, you don’t mind because Matt’s voice is so calm, rational and entertaining that you wouldn’t want to interrupt the flow anyway. In this passage Matt is examining the spot where a young girl he knows had apparently leaped to her death:
After a while I walked over to her building and stood on the pavement in front of it. The florist’s truck had moved on and I examined the street where she’d landed. There was, as Vinnie had assured me, no trace of what had happened. I tilted my head back and looked up, wondering what window she might have fallen from, and then I looked down at the pavement and then up again, and a sudden rush of vertigo made my head spin. In the course of all this I managed to attract the attention of the building’s doorman and he came out to the curb anxious to talk about the former tenant. He was a black man about my age and he looked as proud of his uniform as the guy in the Marine Corps recruiting poster. It was a good-looking uniform, shades of brown, epaulets, gleaming brass buttons.
There are several clever tricks in this straightforward passage. First, he begins by saying ‘After a while’. He’s not specific – he doesn’t say ‘At two o’clock’ or even ‘ten minutes later’. What the vagueness of ‘after a while’ achieves is to suggest that actually he’s not on any timetable or agenda – he’s an ordinary guy with an interest in the deceased girl, but his actions here are unmotivated.
There’s more, and it adds up to a perceptive examination of the book. Click here to read the whole piece