For the second time in his life, Alex Penn wakes up in an alcoholic daze in a cheap hotel room off Times Square and finds himself lying next to the savagely mutilated body of a young woman.Just finished another Lawrence Block book. Here are some thoughts:
Viewed on its own, After the First Death is an above-average but not exceptional crime novel of the Sixties. On the plus side is an intriguing premise, pragmatic and psychologically credible characters, unexpected but, with one notable exception, believable plot twists, a sharply drawn picture of Times Square fifty years ago, a thoughtful reflection on some serious moral questions and the reliable pleasures of a Block novel. On the other side of the ledger, there is the previously alluded to coincidence and a low-key quality that may be the flip-side to the novel's believability.
For those who follow Block, however, this is pretty much essential. After the First Death delves into the major theme of the Matthew Scudder books: addiction both in terms of the addict's psychology and moral culpability. Penn also inhabits Scudder's New York, living in a shabby SRO hotel, spending his days with hookers, pimps and junkies. Like Scudder and so many of Block's other protagonists, Penn is, by nature, reactive; it is only when circumstances demand it that he takes control.
There is one Block touch that particularly stayed with me. On the run after apparently murdering a prostitute in a blackout, Penn desperately wants to drink himself into a stupor but he's afraid of what he might do, so he locks himself in then ties all of his few clothes, including underwear, into knots. Block's addicts are nothing if not resourceful.