Monday, July 05, 2004

A post on Lawrence Block's message board -- about how people became Block fans -- got me thinking... At first I wasn't sure I could remember how I first encountered the wonderful master of the mystery, but the more I pondered it, the more I recalled.

I haven't been reading Block as long as many folks, I'm sure. Maybe 14 years or so. (I think I started around the time that A Ticket to the Boneyard came out.) Fourteen years might sound like a long time -- but, of course, the man's been writing for over 40 years!

If my increasingly faulty memory serves me, I first learned about Larry Block in Art Bourgeau's The Mystery Lover's Companion, a well-thumbed, underlined, highlighted and annotated copy of which still sits on a shelf about 4 feet away. Bourgeau's book served as my roadmap to the mystery genre, and his recommendation of Block convinced me to give him a try.

I was still fairly new to the genre then, and exploring a variety of writers to find people I liked. Right from the beginning, I loved LB's books. I immediately began hunting them out and buying everything I could. (It's easier nowaways, with the internet, to fill out your collection of an author's back catalog. I enjoy the convenience of it, but miss the hunt of the old days.)

I read all the Scudders first. Those were the ones that really sold me. Block can write a detective novel as good as (more likely, better than) anyone who's ever done it.

The flawed but fascinating protagonist; the expert use of setting (nobody makes New York come alive like Block); the host of intriguing supporting characters (who could ever forget Mick Ballou, in particular?); the twisted and gripping plots; the masterful, fresh and original voice... Block brought together all of the elements of the detective novel to create a memorable series that has lasted longer, at a higher level, than anyone else has ever been able to manage.

I have enjoyed the other series as well. The earlier Burglar books, especially, are terrific. Keller is a real gem -- Hit Man is pure brilliance. Tanner is fun. The standalones have also been well worth reading. But for me, Scudder will always be King.

One of the great things about Block as an author is that he has written so many books, and so many different kinds of mysteries, that chances are he has something that will appeal to almost any mystery fan. If you haven't yet had the chance to read his work, I hope you'll pick one up soon.