My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After dozens and dozens of novels, sixteen of which feature Matt Scudder, one might think Block could mail a few in. But A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a tight, well-crafted story that should delight the fan and those who are new to Block's work (where have you been?).
The novel is told as a flashback, set just before the first anniversary of the protagonist's sobriety. He briefly reconnects with a childhood friend, Jack Ellery, who is killed not long after. Scudder, still an unlicensed detective, is hired by the friend's AA sponsor to look into Ellery's death via his Eighth Step list. (This is a list of people a recovering alcoholic believes she/he has hurt or wronged with the goal of making amends when possible and prudent.)
Scudder is also trying to understand his relationship with Jan and facing new stress about his anniversary, and these weigh heavily on him as he travels New York City (often cited as a character in the Scudder novels) talking to people from Ellery's past and trying to figure out who and why someone would kill him.
I was very intrigued by Scudder's own psychological struggles. I have read novels where he was still drinking and some where he had long been sober, but here readers get a glimpse at the unique circumstance of a psychological middle ground, not new to the changed life, but far from being in the position where he could sponsor others. But none of this information bogs down the novel. It is still a fine page turner, with typically crisp dialogue and intriguing characters.
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