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The private investigator genre is pretty much flooded with identical books. The lead character is male and must be a former police officer who became depressed with the work. Once this is established the author must give the PI some sort of substance abuse problem and a broken family a divorced wife and perhaps a couple of kids they never see. It seems to me that the vast majority of PI books will follow these rules and perhaps throw in a couple of variations to spice things up; a former solider (Elvis Cole books), a female, or even a dinosaur in disguise (Anonymous Rex)! By changing small elements to the basic PI structure authors are hoping to keep their particular series fresh. Does this mean that the basic archetype is redundant? Matt Scudder thinks otherwise.
Matt Scudder is hired by a father to look into the murder of his daughter. The police have already closed the case as a young man was apprehended covered in the victims blood and confessing to the murder. The father is more interested in his daughters life before her death as he lost contact with her years previously. Once Scudder begins to uncover what happened the truth does not prove as simple as the police surmised. It seems that there was more involved here than meets the eye. Scudder must pick through the testimony of survivors and deal with the corrupt police force if he is ever going to uncover the real reason the girl was murdered.
Written during the 70s The Sins of the Fathers is a quintessential PI novel. It is clear from the fist 10 pages why Lawrence Blocks character, Matt Scudder, has become one of the leading lights in the genre. The entire novel is underpinned with a great sense of noir and this is all due to the central character. Scudder is a walking cliché, but he was around to create the cliché. With a divorced wife, a drink problem and a former role as a police officer, he should be boring. However, Block clearly loves his characters (see the excellent Burglar series) and instils them with far more dimensions than you would at first believe.
Scudder is a hard drinking and disillusioned man who visits prostitutes and dishes out his own justice if needed. It does not take long for you to begin sympathising with his point of view, even if his techniques are not always to your liking. By the force of Scudders convictions and personality alone, Block is able to make a generic mystery into a fun read. As a reader you can not wait to see what will happen next with this highly strung character completely opposite to the relaxed nature of Blocks other character Bernie.
The story itself does not quite live up to the character involved. Firstly, the title alone should give you a hint as to what happens once you start reading about the numerous suspects. I found that the case was pretty linear and that when any surprises occurred they were too obvious as the book signposts them. This is not saying that the story was without merit as it acted as a good base to develop Scudders character. If it was not for the well rounded and appealing nature of Scudder, this book would have failed.
Being the outsider there are few co-characters that interact with Scudder in the novel. There are a couple of former police friends and women that he meets, but no one is fully realised. Block is a good enough writer to ensure that the suspects are given enough detail so that the reader can create their own opinion, but apart from Scudder, no one really stands out.
Overall, despite the lack of inventive story and developed co-characters this book is still a triumph. This is due to the character of Matt Scudder and Blocks quality writing. Scudder is infinitely readable, even in an average mystery such as this. His dark side, coupled with his sense of justice, makes for intense adventures. Even though Scudder personifies everything that is average about the PI genre, he actually shows that these aspects of the genre are mocked because no one can do them better than he does even though they keep trying.
Author: Lawrence Block
Price: amazon uk - £4.19
play.com - £4.99
A pretty young girl is butchered in her Greenwich Village apartment. The prime suspect dies and NYPD consider the case closed, but Scudder looks into the death for the girl's father. Suddenly he's up to his neck in sleaze and corruption in a world where children must pay for their parents' sins.