The Sins of the Fathers (Matthew Scudder Series #1)

The Sins of the Fathers (Matthew Scudder Series #1)

3.8 37
by Lawrence Block

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The pretty young prostitute is dead. Her alleged murderer—a minister's son—hanged himself in his jail cell. The case is closed. But the dead girl's fatherhas come to Matthew Scudder for answers, sending the unlicensed private investigator in search of terrible truths about a life that was lived and lost in a sordid world of perversion and pleasures.

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The pretty young prostitute is dead. Her alleged murderer—a minister's son—hanged himself in his jail cell. The case is closed. But the dead girl's fatherhas come to Matthew Scudder for answers, sending the unlicensed private investigator in search of terrible truths about a life that was lived and lost in a sordid world of perversion and pleasures.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Block has been getting better and better in recent Matt Scudder novels, but as this first hardcover version of a 16-year-old paperback shows, he was pretty good from the start. King's admiring introduction is generous but by no means overstated. This tale, which introduced the then-hard-drinking ex-cop, is spare and lean and full of dark insights into lonesomeness and anguish. The father of murdered Wendy Hanniford comes to Scudder to try to find out more about his errant daughter--not to find her killer, who was apparently her living partner, a brittle young man who was found in the street raving and covered with her blood and who killed himself shortly after he was arrested. In his dour, methodical, oddly empathetic way, Scudder finds out a great deal, altering several lives in the process. As always in the Scudder books, New York City--its small-hours bars, its jokey, edgy encounters--is a major character; as in the later books, too, Block's style is admirable: free of gimmicks, plain but utterly telling in every line. This is a fine opportunity to get in on the start of what has become one of the most rewarding PI series currently in progress. (May)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Matthew Scudder Series , #1
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Chapter One

He was a big man, about my height with a little more flesh on his heavy frame. His eyebrows, arched and prominent, were still black. The hair on his head was iron gray, combed straight back, giving his massive head a leonine appearance. He had been wearing glasses but had placed them on the oak table between us. His dark brown eyes kept searching my face for secret messages. If he found any, his eyes didn't reflect them. His features were sharply chiseled -- a hawk-bill nose, a fullmouth, a craggy jawline -- but the full effect of his face was as a blank stone tablet waiting for someone to scratch commandments on it.

He said, "I dont know very much about you, Scudder."

I knew a little about him. His name was Cale Hanniford. He was around fifty-five years old. He lived upstate in Utica where he had a wholesale drug business and some real estate holdings. He had last year's Cadillac parked outside at the curb. He had a wife waiting for him in his room at the Carlyle.

He had a daughter in a cold steel drawer at the city mortuary.

"There's not much to know," I said. "I used to be a cop."

"An excellent one, according to Lieutenant Koehler."

I shrugged.

"And now you're a private detective."


"I thought--"

"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."


I took a sip of coffee. I was drinking coffee spiked with bourbon. Hanniford had a Dewar's and water in front of him but wasn't taking much interest in it. We were in Armstrong's, a good sound saloon with dark wood walls and a stamped tin ceiling. It was two in the afternoon on the second Tuesday in January, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. A couple of nurses from Roosevelt Hospital were nursing beers at the far end of the bar, and a kid with a tentative beard was eating a hamburger at one of the window tables.

He said, "It's difficult for me to explain what I want you to do for me, Scudder."

"I'm not sure that there's anything I can do for you. Your daughter is dead. I can't change that. The boy who killed her was picked up on the spot. From what I read in the papers, it couldn't be more open-and-shut if they had the homicide on film." His face darkened; he was seeing that film now, the knife slashing. I went on quickly. "They picked him up and booked him and slapped him in the Tombs. That was Thursday?" He nodded. "And Saturday morning they found him hanging in his cell. Case closed."

"Is that your view? That the case is closed?"

"From a law enforcement standpoint."

"That's not what I meant. Of course the police have to see it that way. They apprehended the killer, and he's beyond punishment." He leaned forward. "But there are things I have to know."

"Like what?"

"I want to know why she was killed. I want to know who she was. I've had no real contact with Wendy in the past three years. Christ, I didn't even know for certain that she was living in New York." His eyes slipped away from mine. "They say she didn't have a job. No apparent source of income. I saw the building she lived in. I wanted to go up to her apartment, but I couldn't. Her rent was almost four hundred dollars a month. What does that suggest to you?"

"That some man was paying her rent."

"She shared that apartment with the Vanderpoel boy. The boy who killed her. He worked for an antiques importer. He earned something in the neighborhood of a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week. If a man were keeping her as his mistress, he wouldn't let her have Vanderpoel as a roommate, would he?" He drew a breath. "I guess it must be fairly obvious that she was a prostitute. The police didn't tell me that in so many words. They were tactful. The newspapers were somewhat less tactful."

They usually are. And the case was the kind the newspapers like to play with. The girl was attractive, the murder took place in the Village, and there was a nice core of sex to it. And they had picked up Richard. Vanderpoel running in the streets with her blood all over him. No city editor worth a damn would let that one slide past him.

He said, "Scudder? Do you see why the case isn't closed for me?"

"I guess I do." I made myself look deep into his dark eyes. "The murder was a door starting to open for you. Now you have to know what's inside the room."

"Then you do understand."

I did, and wished I didn't. I had not wanted the job. I work as infrequently as I can. I had no present need to work. I don't need much money. My room rent is cheap, my day-to-day expenses low enough. Besides, I had no reason to dislike this man. I have always felt more comfortable taking money from men I dislike.

"Lieutenant Koehler didn't understand what I wanted. I'm sure he only gave me your name as a polite way of getting rid of me." That wasn't all there was to it, but I let it pass. "But I really need to know these things. Who was she? Who did Wendy turn into? And why would anyone want to kill her?"

Why did anyone want to kill anybody? The act of murder is performed four or five...

Sins of the Fathers. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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