2012-A Drop of the Hard Stuff

A Drop of the Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block ($14.99):

Fictional American PIs seem to be a dying breed, so thank goodness for Matt Scudder and his creator, Lawrence Block. Matt has changed in ways both big and small since his debut in The Sins of the Fathers in 1976. Scudder’s most consistent supporting character throughout the books has been New York City, which has changed right along with the unlicensed PI.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff unfolds as a story Matt shares with an old friend in a bar long after closing time. The men talk about choices they made in their lives. Matt's thoughts turn to Jack Ellery, a boy he grew up with and later saw when Jack was being questioned by the police. Years later, the two run into each other at an AA meeting. Matt is newly sober and struggling, and Jack is faithfully following the steps of the program. He tells Matt that he is on Step 9, "making amends to people you have harmed," and that he has a long list to get through.

Soon after, Jack is killed, shot by someone on his list who wasn't interested in helping him along the road to sobriety. Jack's AA sponsor asks Matt to look into the murder which proves challenging on a number of levels. The suspects are criminals Jack worked with over the years who aren't eager to discuss their involvement in unsolved crimes and many of the interviews take place in bars, places a newly sober Matt would prefer to avoid. His recovery takes a prominent role in the story and his involvement with AA assists him in solving the murder.

Since the story takes place more than 20 years ago, Matt follows leads the old fashioned way, without the help of computers and using basic detective techniques: interviews, phone calls (some from telephone booths!) and sifting through evidence. This is a familiar story, crime plus detection equals solution. But in the hands of a master storyteller it becomes something more.