LAWRENCE BLOCK – Time to Murder and Create. Matt Scudder #2. Dell, paperback original, 1977. Avon, paperback, 1991. Dark Harvest, hardcover, 1993.

   This book was published relatively early in Block’s career, hence the fact that when it first came out, it was as a lowly paperback original. The first hardcover edition didn’t come along until many years later, well after later books in the series had started to gather quite a lot of critical attention and acclaim.

   Many people like to go through a series in order, and because there has been some question about that, it was Block himself who has verified that Time to Murder and Create was the second to be written but the third to be published. Having that additional insight into the growth of a fictional character is a big plus to many fans, and Matt Scudder has become a guy who has lots of them.

   But just in case he’s someone who’s new to you, Scudder is an ex-cop who quit the force soon after accidentally killing a small child by a ricocheting bullet in the line of duty. He manages a small living acting as an unlicensed private investigator.

In this book he’s approached by an acquaintance generally known as Spinner. Spinner is not really a friend, but recently he seems to be doing well, as if he has come into some money.

   He has a favor to ask of Scudder, who after agreeing is given an envelope to be opened on the occasion of Spinner’s death.

   Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what happens. When Spinner’s body is pulled from the East River, Scudder opens the envelope and … you may be ahead of me. If you’ve already guessed that Spinner had been doing some blackmailing, you’d be right.

   He’d had his hooks into three people, as a matter of fact, and in all likelihood, one of them is responsible for his death. Scudder decides that it’s up to him to find out which one it is.

   It’s easy to tell that Block is the author of both the Scudder books and his “Burglar” series — the voice is exactly the same — but even as early in the series as this one is, it has a harder edge to it than any of the Bernie Rhodenbarr ever had.

   As always, or so it’s been my experience, the mystery itself may not be your primary reason for reading a book by Block. It’s the voice, the rhythm, the attitude, the take you out of your everyday problems, even if only for a short time. Two or three hours will do for me.

   Any of his books, including this one.