Eight Million Ways to Die is the fifth in Block's Matthew Scudder series. Originally published in 1982, the plot revolves around Scudder, an ex-NYPD and now a unlicensed PI who is struggling with alcoholism, who is approached by a call-girl, Kim, who wants to get out of the life and leave her pimp, Chance. Reluctantly, Scudder takes the assignment. He tracks down the elusive pimp and succeeds. In fact, Chance tells him Kim could have saved herself the money and asked him herself. But several days later, Kim is found savagely murdered. Scudder immediately suspects Chance, but as it happens, Chance comes to Scudder and hires him to find the real killer.
Block writes vividly, unsentimentally but with sympathy towards his characters. Even Scudder, who acts as our narrator, is shown as a deeply flawed man, yet with a hidden reservoir of compassion. His struggles with drink and temptation are stark and frightening. The other characters seem as real as well, and not mere templates. Perhaps his best character is New York City itself. We see it through Scudder's eyes as he crossed Manhattan in subways and cabs, while he visits the bars and the apartments of other hookers.
In one scene, Scudder is talking to the police officer working on Kim's case. The cop is drunk and venting about life in the City.
"There are eight million stories in the naked city," he intoned. "You remember that program? Used to be on television some years back."
"They had that line at the end of every show. 'There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.'"
"I remember it."
"Eight million stories," he said. "You know what you got in this city, this fucked-up toilet of a naked city? You know what you got? You got eight million ways to die."
The book was adapted into a movie in 1986 and it bears little resemblance to the novel. Which is a shame, really. It was directed by Hal Ashby (his last film) with a screenplay by Oliver Stone, and it seems both were fired during the production. It also featured Jeff Bridges as Scudder, Roseanne Arquette and Andy Garcia. But as Block noted, it seemed that the movie was made up as it went along. For whatever reason, the movie was moved to Los Angeles, which is huge city, but there aren't eight million people there and never registers as a character itself. In any event, if you want to take a gander at it, the movie is on Youtubes.
Eight Million Ways to Die and other Lawrence Block titles are available at Jackson Street Books and other fine Independent bookstores.As always, books ordered here will have a freebie publishers Advance Reading Copy included as a thank you to our blogosphere friends.