Lawrence Block’s new Scudder book is fictional autobiography

Lawrence Block has published over 200 books. In the 1970′s he wrote a novel about a private eye named Matthew Scudder. At the time he never imagined that 50 years later he would still be writing about the guy. Block is about to publish the 20th Scudder book. Although it’s quite different from those which preceded it.

For one thing, he didn’t write it. OK, perhaps he did write it. When one gets to this point in a legendary career he can do almost anything he chooses. A few years ago he told me he was probably finished writing novels. Then he changed his mind and published “Dead Girl Blues” which was set in Lima, Ohio.

He keeps writing more books. Block is having some much deserved fun. He said this about the new Scudder book:

“What was Matt’s family like? How did he spend his childhood? What steered him toward the NYPD, and how did he get all the way from the Police Academy to a detective’s gold shield? Who were the influences and what were the experiences that made him the man we’ve come to know? These were important questions. There were certainly stories to be told, but that didn’t mean I was the person to tell them. If Matt Scudder was to have a memoir, he ought to write it himself.”

The result is “The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder” in which Block’s enduring protagonist talks about his life up to the point when Block began writing novels about him. This is Scudder’s back story; where he was born, what his family was like, how he became a cop, a detective, and also, an alcoholic.

Devotees of the Scudder books will not want to miss this one. If you have never experienced any of the stories in this series I think after you read this autobiography you’ll be intrigued to comprehend there are another 19 Scudder books already out there just waiting for you to devour them.

Scudder was born in 1938. What a coincidence, the same year Lawrence Block was born. Any similarities between these two men end there, however. As Scudder reflects upon his long life he has time to philosophize: “one reaches an age when the past is as interesting as the present, and a bit less difficult to make sense of.”

To this reviewer the most fascinating bits in this story revolved around how Scudder became a police officer. We meet his partner, an older cop who demonstrates how he thinks policing should work, the occasional bribe notwithstanding. And we get to see how Scudder washed out of the force to become the private investigator Block has been writing about for half a century.

It comes out June 24. Not a coincidence. Block will turn 85 on that date and that’s how he has been wishing himself a happy birthday in recent years. I’m giving him the same present again, another glowing review. Happy Birthday, LB. By the way, I share a birthday with Matt Scudder. A different year, though.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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