Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series of crime-fiction novels began in 1976 with the successful The Sins of the Fathers. Over a 44-year span, the author has written 17 novels, a short-story collection and a novella starring the ex-New York City detective. Scudder is a tragically flawed staple of New York's Hell's Kitchen, an alcoholic nice guy performing good deeds for average citizens. Despite being released after 1976's In the Midst of Death, Block considers the 1977 novel Time to Murder and Create as the second installment in the Matthew Scudder series.
The book begins by introducing readers to a charismatic informant named Spinner. During Scudder's career in law-enforcement, Spinner often supplied details closely related to a crime or criminal suspect. Through that relationship, Spinner formed a trust for Scudder that is evident through Block's opening pages. In it, Spinner presents Scudder an envelope with an ominous set of directions to only open the package if Spinner ends up dead. Shortly thereafter, Spinner's corpse is fished out of the river and Scudder opens the envelope.
Skirting around any potential spoilers, Scudder learns that Spinner was collecting monthly installment payments from three individuals. The first is a wealthy, productive architect, the second is the seductive wife of a rich New York elitist and the third is a wealthy entrepreneur developing a political candidacy. What do the three have in common with Spinner and why are they each paying him money? Scudder's role is to determine which of the three debtors murdered Spinner.
Block's narrative is grossly compelling as Scudder learns the identities of each suspect and assumes Spinner's role as payee. By doing so, he purposefully makes himself a target for the killer. With tight-knuckled suspense, the investigation digs into the mortal turpitude of each debtor. As Scudder begins to understand the payments, he questions his own vulnerability. Again, without spoiling it, there's a brilliant complexity to Scudder's relationship with the architect. Scudder's own personal tragedy closely aligns with that portion of the narrative. The end result is another feather in the hat. Lawrence Block's Time to Murder and Create is a riveting, emotional reading experience with no clear-cut heroes or villains. It's an unbiased look at human behavior and the ultimate costs of our failure. Masterful.
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