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The Sins of the Fathers

Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block, crowned a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and listed as one of the Hound's greatest living crime writers, is the author of two well-known New-York-based crime series. This Sins of the Fathers is the first of the Matthew Scudder books. Scudder is one of the Hound's greatest crime fighters


The hooker was young, pretty...and dead, butchered in a Greenwich village apartment. The prime suspect, a minister's son, was also dead, the victim of a jailhouse suicide. The case is closed, as far as the NYPD is concerned. Now the murdered prostitute's father wants it opened again-and that's where Matthew Scudder comes in. But this assignment carries the unmistakable stench of sleaze and perversion, luring ex-cop-turned-investigator Scudder into a sordid world of phony religion and murderous lust where children must die for their parents most secret, unspeakable sins.

The novel begins when former NYPD cop Scudder is approached by successful wholesale drug company executive Cale Hanniford. Hanniford’s twenty-four-year-old daughter Wendy has been brutally murdered and Hanniford wants to know why she was killed. At first Scudder doesn’t know how he can help. The police have already arrested Wendy’s room-mate twenty-one-year-old 

Richard Vanderpoel for the crime, and the case seems quite straightforward. Vanderpoel had the victim’s blood on him, and he can’t give a satisfactory alibi for the time of the crime. But it turns out that Hanniford isn’t really as interested in Wendy’s death as he is in Wendy’s life. The two had become estranged and he wants to know the sort of person she became and what led to her death. At first Scudder demurs, saying that he’s not a licensed private detective. As he puts it, ‘Private detectives are licensed. They tap telephones and follow people. They fill out forms, they keep records, all of that. I don’t do those things. Sometimes I do favors for people. They give me gifts.’ But Hanniford agrees to Scudder’s unconventional way of doing things and Scudder begins to ask questions. 

Matthew Scudder has, in some ways, a very sad history. He left the NYPD after the accidental shooting of a young girl and he doesn’t have any interest in returning. He’s divorced and doesn’t see his children very often. He lives in a seedy rent-controlled apartment in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. But for all that, Scudder doesn’t spend his days bemoaning his fate or blaming others. He does deal with a heavy burden of guilt though, partly by his generosity to local churches and partly by a lot of drinking. Bars figure quite a lot in this novel. Yet Scudder manages to maintain a civil relationship with his ex-wife Anita; he’s not bitter about her and he does care about his sons. Scudder is a very pragmatic person and he knows more or less how things get done. He often doesn’t use official channels; instead there’s frequently a discreet exchange of money for information or other favours. He’s also pragmatic in other ways, or perhaps realistic would be a better way to describe it. Because of that he’s not judgemental. He’s got friends and acquaintances among what you might call New York’s dregs, and he tries not to judge Wendy Hanniford, her family or Richard Vanderpoel. In fact, he’s not much of a one for making categorical statements about right and wrong in general. Scudder is a reflective person, so he sees several sides of situations and people’s characters. As the story goes on, we learn that Scudder is very familiar with the city and knows his way around most of it. As Scudder travels around the area, we do too as you might say.

The Sins of the Fathers is a psychological novel with a dose of PI work. It features some interesting characters, especially Matthew Scudder himself, and is unmistakeably set in New York City.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Lawrence Block:

Lawrence Block's novels range from the urban noir of Matthew Scudder (A Drop of the Hard Stuff) to the urbane effervescence of Bernie Rhodenbarr (The Burglar on the Prowl), while other characters include the globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner (Tanner on Ice) and the introspective assassin Keller (Hit and Run).

He has published articles and short fiction in American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and The New York Times, and 84 of his short stories have been collected in Enough Rope. In 2004, he became executive story editor for the TV series TILT. Several of his novels have been filmed, though not terribly well.

Larry is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and a past president of both MWA and the Private Eye Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times each and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and, most recently, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Life Achievement from the Crime Writers Association (UK). In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Germany, Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Spain, and, as if that were not enough, was presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. Larry and his wife Lynne are enthusiastic New Yorkers and relentless world travelers.

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