Book Review – HOPE TO DIE (2001) by Lawrence Block

HOPE TO DIE by LAWRENCE BLOCK (2001, Orion, Paperback, 340pp) ∗∗∗½
      Blurb: Byrne and Susan Hollander stroll home from a concert on a fine summer?s evening in New York. Some hours later, their daughter Kristin arrives home to discover her parents brutally killed and the house ransacked. She also finds she is now a very young millionaire. A few days later the police trace the two killers to an apartment in Coney Island, and both are dead. One killed the other before turning the gun on himself ? at least that?s the way it looks. So that?s another case solved. But for Matt Scudder it’s only the beginning. The more he looks into it, the more things look wrong to him. There’s a murderer out there, and he’s just getting started. Pitted in a deadly game of cat and mouse, Scudder is up against the most resourceful and diabolical killer of his career.

isbn9781409130109-detailHaving recently watched and enjoyed the old-school thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson as Lawrence Block’s ex-alcoholic and part-time detective Matt Scudder, I remembered I had bought a copy of another of Block’s Scudder tales from the bargain bin at Asda some months ago and never got round to reading it. So I decided to catch up on what I had missed.

I found the first half of the book a little too ponderous after the initial set-up of the case. There’s a lot of pages devoted to exposition and a sub-plot featuring the death of Scudder’s ex-wife and his re-uniting with his two sons. We are also reminded that Scudder is a reformed alcoholic who still regularly attends AA meetings. Now older and wiser he finds solace in helping others. Whilst this adds depth to the character it tends to slow the pace of the story. But Block is an experienced and canny writer and he gradually homes in on the case in hand, which twists and turns in unexpected directions. The pace picks up in the last hundred pages and the conclusion is both shocking and surprising.

When I was reading Scudder’s dialogue I had a clear vision of Liam Neeson in mind, showing what a good piece of casting it was and a significant improvement over the previous film adaptation of Scudder – Eight Million Ways to Die (1986) – in which he was played by Jeff Bridges. I look forward to reading more Matt Scudder and also hope he returns to the screen soon.

Film Review Round-up – A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014); CROSSFIRE (1947); CROSSFIRE TRAIL (2001) and DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957).

51Z-D5DDmkL._SY300_Walk Among the Tombstones, A (2014; USA; Technicolor; 113m) ∗∗∗½  d. Scott Frank; w. Scott Frank; ph. Mihai Malaimare Jr.; m. Carlos Rafael Rivera; ed. Jill Savitt.  Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Marina Squerciati, Sebastian Roché, Boyd Holbrook, Stephanie Andujar, David Harbour, Briana Marin, Toshiko Onizawa, Purva Bedi, Maurice Compte, Patrick McDade, Luciano Acuna Jr., Hans Marrero, Laura Birn. Matt Scudder (Neeson), an unlicensed private investigator, reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker (Stevens) hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife. Neeson is on fine form and although it never strays too far from genre conventions this is a professionally packaged dark thriller. Based on the novel by Lawrence Block. [15]

220px-Crossfire213Crossfire (1947; USA; B&W; 85m) ∗∗∗½  d. Edward Dmytryk; w. John Paxton; ph. J. Roy Hunt; m. Roy Webb; ed. Harry W. Gerstad.  Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Sam Levene, Paul Kelly, Jacqueline White, Steve Brodie, Lex Barker. This unusual and worthwhile black-and-white film noir was one of the first movies to deal with issues of anti-Semitism. A weary Washington detective must get to the bottom of a seemingly motive-lacking murder, with the prime suspect a boozy soldier who can only vaguely recall the events of the night. Dmytryk (also responsible for MURDER MY SWEET in 1944) directs with a sure and efficient hand giving the story sufficient room to breathe whilst keeping the plot moving along. Whilst this is not a classic, the film is one of the better examples of the atmosphere and tension the genre could create with a gifted director at the helm. Based on the novel “The Brick Foxhole” by Richard Brooks. Also available in a computer colourised version. [PG]

Crossfire_Trail_CoverCrossfire Trail (TV) (2001; USA; Colour; 92m) ∗∗∗  d. Simon Wincer; w. Charles Robert Carner; ph. David Eggby; m. Eric Colvin; ed. Terry Blythe.  Cast: Tom Selleck, Virginia Madsen, Wilford Brimley, David O’Hara, Christian Kane, Barry Corbin, Joanna Miles, Ken Pogue, Patrick Kilpatrick, Rex Linn, William Sanderson, Daniel Parker, Marshall R. Teague, Brad Johnson, Mark Harmon. Rafe Covington promises a dying friend that he’ll watch over the man’s wife and ranch after he’s gone. Well-made western with a strong central performance from Selleck, but an overly melodramatic villain in Harmon. Good support cast headed by Brimley as wisened cow hand. Based on the novel by Louis L’Amour [15]

Decision_at_Sundown_FilmPosterDecision at Sundown (1957; USA; Technicolor; 77m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Budd Boetticher; w. Charles Lang; ph. Burnett Guffey; m. Heinz Roemheld; ed. Al Clark.  Cast: Randolph Scott, John Carroll, Karen Steele, Valerie French, Noah Beery Jr., John Archer, Andrew Duggan, James Westerfield, John Litel, Ray Teal, Vaughn Taylor, Richard Deacon, H.M. Wynant. Scott and his sidekick arrive in the town of Sundown on the wedding day of the town boss, whom the Scott blames for his wife’s death years earlier. Well-made Western where all the characters are shades of grey. Scott delivers one of his best performances as an angst ridden ex-civil war vet out for revenge. Based on a story by Vernon L. Fluharty. [PG]