Next Monday, December 1, at 7 pm, the 7% Solution Book Club will be discussing Lawrence Block‘s modern mystery classic, When The Sacred Ginmill Closes. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7pm on BookPeople’s third floor. We read and discuss mysteries of all shapes, flavors and sub-genres. Our selection for January’s meeting is Barry Lyga‘s young adult mystery I Hunt Killers. This past month, we read Lori Rader-Day‘s magnificent debut novel, The Black Hour.
Lawrence Block is one of the most renowned and prolific authors writing today, making him to modern America what Georges Simenon was to mid-century France. Block is best known for two series in particular; one starring the hard-boiled private eye Matthew Scudder, and the other focusing in on the exploits of gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr.
Matthew Scudder, over a long series, is a constantly evolving character. In Block’s first few novels with the character, Scudder plays pretty much the same part – alcoholic ex-cop earning a living from doing “favors for friends” and drinking heavily each night. Block’s fifth Scudder novel, Eight Million Ways to Die, breaks the pattern, with Scudder introducing himself at an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting as the novel’s conclusion. Scudder’s struggle with his alcoholism and his involvement with AA remain major themes throughout the rest of Block’s work in the series, and Scudder never touches another drop.
When The Sacred Ginmill Closes, like The Long Goodbye, is a novel about friendship before it is about murder, and about alcohol long before it is about friendship. Like Block chose to write When the Sacred Ginmill Closes as a flashback novel, told from the perspective of a recovered alcoholic about a case from his drinking days, and this lends the novel an aura of nostalgia that makes the book feel timeless. The novel opens with Scudder describing his favorite watering holes, and both cases Matthew goes on to solve involve either drinking buddies or bartenders.
In the course of the novel, Scudder takes on two cases. One of Matthew’s friends, a regular at the same bar, asks him with help investigating his wife’s murder, while another friend, a bartender, enlists his aid recovering some stolen goods. Scudder works hard on the case in between drinking bouts, and the novel draws to a complex and satisfying conclusion.
Block’s style is smooth; his characters speak eloquently and timelessly. The book may have been written in 1986, but it takes place in Anytime Noir New York. His dialogue is stylish and snappy, and his characters can as easily talk philosophy or folk music as kill a man – that is to say, it is easy for them to do both.
Come to BookPeople’s third floor next Monday, December 1, at 7 pm, for a discussion of this excellent read. We will also have a free wheeling discussion of Lawrence Block and his works in general. The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month. Copies of When the Sacred Ginmill Closes are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.