Matthew Scudder knows that justice is an elusive commodity in the big city, where a harmless man can be shot dead in a public place criminals fly free through holes in a tattered legal system. But now a vigilante is roaming among the millions, executing those he fees deserve to die. He calls himself "The Will of the People"—an ingenious serial killer who announces his specific murderous intentions to the media before carrying through on his threats. A child molester, a Mafia don, a violent anti-abortionist—even the protected and untouchable are being ruthlessly erased by New York's latest celebrity avenger.
Scudder knows that no one is innocent—but who among us has the right to play God? It is a question that will haunt the licensed p.i. on his journey through the bleak city grays, as he searches for the sanity in urban madness. . .and for a frighteningly efficient killer who can do the impossible.
About the Author
Lawrence Block is one of the most widely recognized names in the mystery genre. He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Edgar and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. He received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association—only the third American to be given this award. He is a prolific author, having written more than fifty books and numerous short stories, and is a devoted New Yorker and an enthusiastic global traveler.
Read an Excerpt
He paused, and I knew what he was going to say an instant before he said it. "He wasn't writing about one of my clients. He was writing about me."
"What did he say?"
"Oh, lots of things," he said. "I could read it to you."
"You've got the letter?"
"A copy of it. McGraw faxed it to me. He called me first, before he called the cops, and he faxed me a copy of the letter. That was actually damned considerate of him. I shouldn't have called him a jerk."
"When I first brought his name up, I said"
"You called him an idiot."
"You're right at that. Well, I don't suppose he's either one, or if he is he's a considerate specimen of the breed. You asked what Will said. 'An Open Letter to Adrian Whitfield.' Let's see. 'You have de voted your life to keeping guilty men out of prison.' Well, he's wrong about that. They're all innocent until proven guilty, and whenever guilt was proved to the satisfaction of a jury, they went to prison. And stayed there, unless I could get a reversal on appeal. In another sense, of course, he's quite correct. Most of the men and women I've rep resented did what they were accused of doing, and I guess that's enough to make them guilty in the eyes of Will."
"What's his beef with you, exactly? Doesn't he think the accused are entitled to a defense?"
"Well, I don't want to read you the whole thing," he said, "and his position's hard to state with precision, but you could say he takes exception to the fact that I'm good at what I do."
"It's funny," he said. "He doesn't even mention Richie Vollmer, and that's what got him started."
"That's right, you were Vollmer's attorney."
"I was indeed, and I got my share ofhate mail when he managed to dodge the wheels of Justice, but there's nothing in here about my role in getting him off. Let's see what he says. He says I put the police on trial, which is hardly unique on my part. Our mutual friend Gruliow does that all the time. It's often the best strategy with a minority defendant. He also says I put the victim on trial. I think he's talking about Naomi Tarloff."
"It might surprise you to know I've had some second thoughts about that case. But that's neither here nor there. I defended the Ellsworth boy the best I knew how, and even so I didn't get him off. The jury convicted the little son of a bitch. He's upstate serving fifteen-to-twenty-five, but that's nothing to the sentence our friend Will has imposed. He says he's going to kill me."
I said, "I assume McGraw went straight to the cops."
"With the briefest pause to ring me up and then fax me the thing. As a matter of fact he made a Xerox copy and faxed that. He didn't want to screw up any physical evidence by running the original through his fax machine. Then he called the cops, and then I heard from them. I had two detectives over here for an hour, and I can call them idiots without regard to the possibility that they're friends of yours. Did I have any enemies? Were there clients who were bitter about my efforts on their behalf? For Christ's sake, the only embittered clients I've got are the ones behind bars, where no body has to worry about them, least of all myself."
They have to ask.
"I suppose so," he said, "but isn't it fairly obvious that this isn't a guy with a personal motive? He's already killed four people, and he nailed the first one because Marty McGraw told him to. I don't know what earned me a place on his shit list, but it's not because he thought I charged him too much for keeping him out of jail."
"Did they offer you protection?"
"They talked about posting a guard in my outer office. I can't see what good that's going to do."
"It couldn't hurt."
"No, but it couldn't help all that much either. I need to know what to do, Matt. I've got no experience in this area. Nobody ever tried to kill me. The closest I've come to this was five or six years ago when a man named Paul Masland offered to punch me in the nose."
"A disaffected client?"
"Uh-uh. A stockbroker with a snootful. He accused me of fucking his wife. Jesus, I was one of the few men in western Connecticut who hadn't had a shot at her."
"He swung and missed, and a couple of guys grabbed his arms, and I said the hell with it and went home. The next time I ran into him we both acted like nothing had ever happened. Or maybe he wasn't acting, because he'd been pretty drunk that night. It's possible he didn't remember a thing. You think I should have told the two detectives about Paul?"
"If you think there's a chance he could have writ ten that letter."
"It'd be a neat trick," he said, "because the poor bastard's been dead for a year and a half. A stroke or a heart attack, I forget which, but he went in a minute, whichever it was. Son of a bitch never knew what hit him. Not like our friend Will. He's a fucking rattlesnake, isn't he? Warning you first, letting you know what's coming. Matt, tell me what I should do."
"What you should do? You should leave the country."
"You're not serious, are you? Even if you are it's out of the question."
That didn't surprise me. I said, "Where are you? At your office?"
"No, I got out of there once I got rid of the cops. I'm at my apartment. You've never been here, have you? We always met downtown. I live at . . . Jesus, I was wondering if I should say it over the phone. But if he's got the phone tapped he'd have to know where it's installed, wouldn't you say?"
Early on, he'd asked if his voice was shaky. It hadn't been and it still wasn't, but his anxiety was apparent in the way his conversation was becoming increasingly disjointed. He told me the address and I copied it down. "Don't go anywhere," I said. "Call your doorman and tell him you're expecting a visitor named Matthew Scudder, and not to let me up until after I've shown him photo ID. And tell him I'm the only visitor you're expecting, and not to let anybody else up. And tell him that includes the police.
"Let your machine screen your phone calls. Don't pick up unless you recognize the caller. I'll be right over."
Copyright ) 1998 by Lawrence Block
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What People are Saying About This
Lawrence Block is a master. -- Jonathan Kellerman
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first Lawrence Block novel that I read and I enjoyed his writing style. The plot itself was another story. The book was separated into three sections. Each section was about a different murder mystery. All three were extremely predictable. You figured it out early and then the remainder became boring. Needed more twists and turns or the book size should have been cut in half.
Matt Scudder is a laid back kind of private eye. He does a lot of thinking and a lot of reasoning. In this tale he solves three crimes, including one of serial killings, which has everyone baffled. Finding the solution without Scudder¿s input would seem impossible. I like Block¿s style, which meant I, the reader, could adopt a laid back attitude not too common in crime or thriller fiction. This was however, a fast paced, difficult to put down book.
I would have rated this higher, because most of it was excellent. However,I just didn't buy the last confession. That character would never in a million years have fallen for Scudder:s "you'll feel better if you confess" schtick, and it ruined the book.