Number 7 in the Matt Scudder mystery series, this one written in 1989. Yep, we are still in the era where he makes phone calls from pay phones and lives in a residential hotel for cheap, and actually has a real honest-to-goodness phone in his room. I have decided he is a very Zen kind of person. He earns just enough to live on and sporadically support his kids, he doesn’t go looking for cases, they all just come to him, his possessions in his hotel room are minimal, he has no car, and he tries to do good. What more can we ask of life? Well, we can ask more, we all do, don’t we, but perhaps we shouldn’t, since studies show that happiness is not in possessing things, but in possessing interests and being interesting, and being interested in something.
In this volume, Scudder has been sober for three years, and a Subaru dealer from Indiana has hired him to find his missing daughter, would-be actress Paula Hoeldtke. She seems to have moved out of her rooming house room, leaving behind only the sheets and the telephone answering machine. Her parents haven’t heard from her in several months and can’t contact her, so the dad comes to the city, where he is directed to Matt Scudder to kind of nose around and see what he can come up with.
Meanwhile, a fellow AA member whom he met at one of the meetings has asked Scudder to hear his confessions of his failings, which is Step 5 of the AA program. Scudder agrees, and when he doesn’t hear from him for a while, looks for him, and finds him dead in his room, asphyxiated by a rope tied to his bed frame. Looks like an auto-eroticism act gone wrong.
In the course of his investigations he acquires a dangerous new lady (she drinks) and a dangerous new friend (they call him “The Butcher Boy,”, both of whom impact his life in different ways.
As reviewer Bill Kerwin writes, this is a typical Matt Scudder mystery: slow as molasses, slim on plot, very grim—and totally absorbing. Yep. I do like this series, because although the subjects are often very heavy, it is easy reading. This one teaches us about Paris Green. It is the name of a restaurant the protagonists patronize.
“It gets the feel of the place across. The French atmosphere, and all the plants hanging from the ceiling.”
“Don’t you know what Paris green is?”
“It’s a poison,” she said. “It’s an arsenic compound. Arsenic and copper, if I remember right, and that would account for the color. It used to get a lot of use as an insecticide. You would spray it on plants to kill chewing insects. They absorbed it and died. Paris green was also used as a coloring agent. To color things green. They used it primarily in wallpaper, and consequently a lot of people have died over the year, most of them children with a bent for oral experimentation.”
How apt for a murder mystery book. Spoiler: it has nothing to do with the deaths in this book. It is just an interesting side note.
The title of the book comes from a conversation Scudder has with a playwrite, who is discussing an ill friend who is too ill to revise his play. (Remember, this is the 80s.) The playwrite says to Scudder
“Everyone’s dying. Have you noticed? …. Do you know what I think?”
“The earth has AIDS. We’re all whirling merrily through the void on a dying planet, and gay people are just doing their usual number, being shamelessly trendy as always. Right out in front on the cutting edge of death.”
OK, now I am sad.
Enjoy your read, and fret not, for there are many more to come in the series.