This is a self-contained short story featuring troubled private investigator Matt Scudder, who is one of Block’s best creations. The story is set back in the day, during Matt’s heavy drinking sessions and long before the advent of the mobile phone or internet. So it’s very much a traditional murder-mystery investigation, although initially it appears not to be a murder at all…
Scudder is an ex-cop who quit the force after a fatal shooting incident: his whole life since then has been spiralling downwards towards the gutter. He sleeps in a hotel room, bare of any luxury. He does regular penance, but there’s no peace in him. He take on private jobs as an unlicensed detective, and leans on his old contacts and sources to provide him with information. Sometimes they help out of pity: sometimes (especially in the early books of this long-running series) they give Scudder what he needs with an air of disgust, the better to be rid of him.
Scudder is in between jobs when a female acquaintance apparently commits suicide by jumping out of a window from her high-rise apartment. Her sister is convinced she didn’t take her own life but was murdered instead. Scudder takes on the case, which turns out to be a neat twist on a traditional locked-room murder.
As ever, Block’s writing is crisp and classy. This is pure pulp fiction: there’s no faffing around with detailed back story or sprawling social commentary. Instead we cut straight to the chase, in an urban American cityscape of the late 20th century, where you still drop a dime to call the cops… and confidential information can be bought for the price of a new hat.
If you’ve enjoyed the full-length Matt Scudder books already then grabbing this short story is a no-brainer. It’s a refreshing interlude back to the days when Matt was a hard-faced man whose soul came close to drowning in a whisky bottle.
If you’ve not tried any of the Scudder stories before then this *might* work as an intro – it’s a satisfying little mystery all right. But it doesn’t have the power and depth of Block’s full-length books so don’t view it as entirely typical. It’s more like a taster before you plunge into the 17 full-length Scudder novels…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Out The Window by Lawrence Block is available as an ebook on Amazon
It’s also one of a dozen Scudder stories compiled into The Night and The Music anthology, which is available as a paperback and an ebook