THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD by Lawrence Block

May the road rise to meet you.  May the wind be always at your back.  May you be in heaven and hour before the Devil knows you’re dead. – Irish blessing. 

The next in the Matt Scudder, quasi-private detective series.  In this story, Matt is still sober, his ex-girlfriend, Jan, is suffering from non-treatable pancreatic cancer (this was written in 1993) and wants Matt to get her a gun so she can make her exist on her own terms,  he and his current girlfriend finally decide to get married, and he has a pretty interesting case about a seemingly decent guy, a lawyer, with a job in a publishing house, and a nifty if small condo with a heck of a view, who becomes just another statistic, gunned down in a phone booth on Eleventh Avenue. When the cartridge casings of the fatal shots turn up on a local Vietnam vet street person,  the whole of the Big Apple knows it’s an open and shut case. But not Scudder.  When the brother of the vet contacts Matt to investigate,  Scudder finds that the Yuppie dead guy has skeletons in his closet and Matt can hear them rattling.

Scudder does the horizontal hula with the grieving widow which makes his declarations of love to Elaine, his current squeeze, seem less believable, but what do I know.  I am just an old broad who is jaded and cynical.

Some more information was offered as to the structure and workings of the AA organization, which I found interesting.

There are several different formats for AA meetings.  There are speaker meetings and discussion meetings, and there are formats which combine the two elements.  There are step meetings, which center each week upon one of the program’s twelve steps, and tradition meetings, which do the same for AA’s twelve traditions.  Promise meetings focus on the benefits of recovery, which are presumably assured to everyone who follows the directions.  (There are twelve promises, too.  If Moses had been an alcoholic, I’ve heard it said, we’d be stuck with twelve commandments instead of ten.)  At a Big Book meeting, members typically take turns reading a couple of paragraphs of the sacred text.  When the week’s designated chapter has been completed, the rest of the hour is given over to a discussion of what was read, with people relating what they heard to their own personal histories and current situations.

The Big Book is the oldest and most important piece of AA literature, written by the first members over fifty years ago, [seventy-five years ago at this blog writing].  Its opening chapters explain the program’s principles, and the rest of the book consists of members telling their personal stories, much as we tell them now when we speak at meetings, telling what our lives used to be like, what happened, and what it’s like now.

Another good mystery, although I did figure out that the dead guy had some secrets, because what was he doing using a public phone booth at night in a dicey neighborhood when he had a perfectly good phone at home in his condo?

Commentaries are beginning to appear by the characters as to the lack of public phones in the city, how so many of them do not accept coins but only calling cards, how there are few if any of the booth style, they are all open half boxes attached to telephone poles, and how they no longer have the number on them so you can call the person back.  This to counteract the drug dealers, and the phone card phones because of the rate of coin theft.  Persistent thieves had gone so far as to attach the phone boxes to cars and pulled right off the poles … all for a few quarters!  So we readers can track the history of the decline of the public phone booth through the story line of the Scudder series.

 

 

 

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