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Is the Deaf Man branching out?
Hope to Die
Lawrence Block

Scudder's return, while welcome, isn't quite the Scudder we've known before.

As has been pointed out, he is 62, and slowing down a bit physically, so it seems only fair that nobody tries to personally punch his ticket to any extent in this volume.

As is often the case in a Scudder novel, indirection is the underlying driving force here, to the extent that, even though Scudder and TJ -- TJ is moving steadily upward toward the status of a full partner, it looks like -- solve the killings, at the end of the story, they are still not quite certain that everything is over and all the ends are tied up.

Other reviewers have objected to the italicised sections featuring the killer's thoughts and plans, but i believe that they do advance and enlarge the plot, and are definitely necessary. This book runs on a formula that Ed McBain has pretty well worked out in the 87th Precinct's sporadic encounters with the Master Criminal they know only as "the deaf man". When the story involves this sort of cat and mouse game between antagonist and protagonist, the reader, at least, must have at least some inkling of what the "cat" is thinking, or else the action of the story becomes a series of random events, not shaped to any visual end, as "mouse" after "mouse" is swept from the board.

On the other hand, it is possible to let the reader see too much of what the antagonist is thinking/planning, thus vitiating the suspense, but Block, like McBain, has a firm enough grasp on his narrative as to not go that way.

And this one is a spooky one to share the thoughts of; a somewhat unusual serial killer, he is so cheerily analytical about his own actions, so calm and precise in making his plans and setting them in motion that i was struck by the notion that if the Joker were a bit less flamboyant (both physically and personal-style-wise) the villain of this book would resemble him.

Scudder's untangling of the layer upon layer of deception came only a bit less quickly than mine, in some areas, and rather more quickly when i occasionally found myself almost at a standstill.

One thing that i did wonder at is that Scudder lets things progress rather beyond the point where, in my opinion, he ought to be arranging a little protection for people -- there's at least one point in here where, if Scudder were Spenser, Hawk and Vinnie Morris would be taking surveillance/protection shifts alternating with Belson and Quirk, and Scudder doesn't see it that way.

Eventually, however, seeing a real threat to one character who does not seem to be receiving requested police protection, Scudder enlists Mick Ballou's aid.

As i said, though they basically solve the specific cases/killings, Scudder, TJ and friends are a bit slow on some things, setting up the possibility of repercussions in future books.

Unusually for the series so far, Scudder's ex-wife and estranged sons, ritually referred to in most if not all of the previous volumes but seldom if ever actually seen, here appear as actual characters with actual lives and problems that (at least peripherally) Scudder finds himself drawn into. Already, i think, we have seen more of them in this one volume than we have in all the seventeen preceding books combined. It will be interesting to see if Block continues to enlarge upon this connection to Scudder's former life as the series moves forward.