LAWRENCE BLOCK – When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. Matt Scudder #6. Arbor House, hardcover, 1986. Charter, paperback, 1986. Jove, paperback, 1990.

   I have just finished reading When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, in which Matt Scudder remembers a couple of ten-year-old cases that he worked on during his drinking days. I finished this in a rush of adrenalin produced by the excitement a perfect ending always produces in me.

   So when I look ten years into the past I can say that I would very likely have handled things differently now, but everything is different now. Everything. All changed, changed utterly. I live in the same hotel, I walk the same streets, I go to a fight or a ball game the same as ever, but ten years ago I was always drinking and now I don’t drink at all. I don’t regret a single one of the drinks I took, and I hope to God I never take another.

   Because, you see, is the less-traveled road on which I find myself these days, and it ha made all the difference. Oh, yes. All the difference.

   The reflective, wry meditation on life lived and life changing (but perhaps, not all that much) is an appropriate ending for a novel of reflection on decade-old events. This inevitable conclusion (but inevitable only to a writer of Block’s gifts) is an example of perfect pitch in structure and tone.

   It also reminds me of a moment in a recent episode of Inspector Morse (“Cherubims and Seraphims”) in which Morse’s niece, still caught up in the ecstasy of a drug-induced “perfect moment,” comments that life can never be again like that moment. She is short to kill herself, precipitating a search by Morse for answers to a death that has no answers.

   I don’t think that Block necessarily had any sense that he had created something he could never achieve again. He’s continued to write, with great success, and probably never greater than in his Matt Scudder series, although this novel seemed to have a resonance that I don’t remember in any of the others. Let’s just say that my imperfect pitch, which certainly varies from one minute to the next, was at that moment in time in perfect tune with Block’s pitch.

   However, I don’t feel that this is an experience I won’t have again, although the correspondent for it may be a musical composition, a film, a meal, a moment in a personal relationship. I come down from the highs, but the fall isn’t that intense, and the sense of loss isn’t that devastating. Oh, no. Not at all.

   Also, if the ending to this particular Block novel seemed especially satisfying, it’s not profoundly apart from my usual reaction to Block’s work. My experience with mystery fiction is very limited these days, but Block has established in the Scudder series a consistently recognizable style that distinguishes it and him.

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #106, March 1995.