Friday, 19 February 2016

Out on the Cutting Edge by Lawrence Block



published 1989



Out on the Cutting Edge 1





[All descriptions of the same woman, Willa, throughout the book]


….She wore blue jeans that were starting to go at the knee and a plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and the top two buttons Out on the cutting edge 2unbuttoned.

….She had changed, too. She was wearing a light blue silk blouse over a pair of white Levi’s. She had braided her hair, and the braid was coiled across the front of her head like a tiara. She looked cool and elegant, and I told her so.
…She wore the blue silk blouse again, this time over loose khaki fatigues with drawstring cuffs. Her hair was braided in twin pigtails, in the style of an Indian maiden.

Out on the Cutting Edge 3….She was wearing a pair of jeans I hadn’t seen before, paint-smeared, ragged at the cuffs. Her hair was pinned up and tucked out of sight behind a beige scarf. She was wearing a man’s white button-down shirt with a frayed collar, and her blue tennis shoes were paint-spattered to match the jeans. She carried a gray metal toolbox, rusty around the locks and hinges.

…When I got to Willa’s she was wearing the white Levi’s with another silk blouse, this one lime green. Her hair was down, flowing over her shoulders.

commentary: For once, I do remember who recommended this to me! It was my good friend Christine Poulson - a frequent player indeed upon this blog. Last year I did a list of the best crime fiction endings, and asked for suggestions – this was one of hers.

It’s a PI novel set in New York, and although very much of this genre (drinking, disastrous marital past) it does not read like a stereotype and is extremely well-written. I was drawn into the sad story of the missing young woman - she came to the big city full of hope, wanting to be an actress, and has disappeared. Now her parents have asked series character Matt Scudder to find her, so he sets off to inch his way through the worlds of theatre and waitressing to try to track her down. Along the way he meets Willa, above, and starts a romance with her.

I’ve read a couple of Block books in the past, but none for a while: now I’ll be hunting out more because this one was so good. And Christine is right – it has a good ending. I’ll leave it at that. You should read it yourself…

This book is mid-series, and but has a feature that occasionally pops up when you are there in the middle of the story: we learn a terrific amount about Matt Scudder’s life, his past and his career, and how he operates, and his failed marriage. I’m very glad there is such a rounded picture of him, but it makes me wonder what is in the other books – were the regulars skipping this, knowing all about it? Matt spends a lot of time at AA meetings – and indeed this is part of the plot – but is that always the case? This is by no means a criticism, I’m just interested in how much of Scudder’s life Block has lavished on us this time. I will find out more as I pursue the series.

Block had some very funny moments along the way – I was impressed by his friend deducing that Scudder was seeing a woman from the use of pronouns. Then there was this:
He was wearing a white butcher’s apron that covered him from the neck down. There were rust-colored stains on the white cotton, some of them vivid, some of them bleached and faded. I found myself wondering at the wisdom of getting into a car with a man so dressed, but there was nothing in his manner to lead me to fear that I was going to be taken for that sort of ride.
And later:
I didn’t argue with him. I’d been a New York cop long enough not to argue with people who wanted to give me money.
The dialogue in the book is exceptional, the characters rounded and real. I liked the phrase ‘behind the stick’ to describe a barman.

When I started reading the book I hadn’t actually checked when it was first published, and I enjoyed working out for myself when it was taking place. This didn’t narrow it down:
It was less than two months before the election, people were saying what everybody says every four years, that it was a damned shame there wasn’t anybody more interesting to vote for.
- but I got there in the end without having to look it up.

Willa is big on her jeans, so here’s a few different versions from roughly that era, and camo pants from now. These are almost the only clothes descriptions in the book.














14 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this as much as you did, MOira. I think Lawrence Block is really such a talented writer. Lots of great characters, and he does do good descriptions. Yet, the stories aren't too wordy if that makes sense.

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    1. A really great writer, I agree, and I very much enjoyed this book.

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  2. Flattered that you read this on my recommendation, Moira, and glad you enjoyed it. I've read all the Scudder novels and the backstory develops over a number of novels - he doesn't stop drinking and start going to AA until some way in. Personally I don't mind being reminded of his past. Yes, they are very well-written. I'd be quite happy to read them all again. You can't say that of every crime novel!

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    1. Indeed - this is really high-level stuff. As I said, I hadn't read him for a while, and I'm glad you reminded me of how good he is.

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  3. Been a decade or more since I tried this series, though I was really into it at one point - time to rummage through the loft again!

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    1. That's how I felt Sergio, and now really glad I started in on them again...

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  4. I think I read some of the early Matt Scudder novels when they first came out, but I decided to reread all of them. At this point have only reread the first one. And liked it although I seem to remember it is somewhat depressing. I know I read a good number of the Burglar series. I think the man can write anything well. I read some of his book on writing, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, and that is entertaining too. He wrote a boatload of books ...

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    1. I know, I was looking at the lists... I read a few Burglar books back in the day. Now minded to read more Scudder.

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  5. Moira: When I was growing up jeans were work clothes. No one, man or woman, would have worn jeans to dress up. I still struggle to see jeans as fashionable.

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    1. When I was student-age, we wore jeans to challenge the establishment, to show we were rebellious. Small chance of that now...

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  6. Moira, I have planned to read a few Lawrence Block this year.

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    1. Well, based on this one you'll really enjoy them!

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  7. I was working my way towards this, but got sidetracked after about 5 in the series. I do love Block's work, so I'll get back on the trail at some point.

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    1. I always associate Block with you, and did look to see if you'd done this one. The books have been a bit more in your line this weekend!

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