Picks and Pans Review: A Ticket to the Boneyard
James Léo Motley inflicts pain for a living. He likes to do his work with no interference—not from the cops, not from others in the same profession, not from the people who hire him and especially not from a recovering alcoholic and ex-cop turned private eye like Matthew Scudder.
Motley and Scudder are antagonists in a book that cries out to be read at night. It would be hard to find a better mystery.
The assumption has always been that when men like Motley don't get their way. their revenge button goes on red alert. No one knows this unwritten rule better than Scudder. but when a chance comes for him to give Motley some serious jail time, he grabs it. even if he has to stretch the truth.
Twelve years later. Motley is released and plots a payback. Soon, the novel turns into a bloody chess match between the men. The first to feel Motley's pain are Connie. one of two women to testify against him. and her children. From there, the battle escalates as Motley turns his murderous glance in the direction of any woman Scudder ever knew. Then, the two meet again:
" 'You took twelve years of my life,' he said. They locked me up. Do you know what it's like to be locked up?'
" 'It didn't have to be twelve years. You could have been back on the street in a year or two. You're the one who decided to make it hard time."
"His grip tightened and my knees buckled. I might have fallen if he hadn't been holding on. I shouldn't have served a day.' he said. "Aggravated assault upon a police officer. I never assaulted you. You assaulted me. and then you framed me. They sent the wrong man to jail.'
" 'You belonged there.' "
More bodies fall, more unwitting bystanders are damaged as the feud between Scudder and Motley turns into a mystery equivalent of Ali vs. Frazier. with no life safe, no shadow innocent enough to ignore. With this first-class tale, Block (Eight Million Ways to Die) should slide out of the mystery shadows into the genre's top tier.
Scudder is a perfect detective, a worthy successor to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. The dialogue is tough and sharp, the pacing a two-minute drill through New York City's dark side, and the reflexively evil Motley is born to be hated. (Morrow, $18.95)