Eight Million Ways to Die published 1982 is the fifth book in Lawrence Block's acclaimed Matthew Scudder mystery series. There are 18 novels in this series and they center around Matthew Scudder, an ex NYC police detective who now works as a private investigator. Scudder is very good at his job and since he does not have an expensive lifestyle it gives him the freedom to choose only those cases he cares about.
When Matthew Scudder is not working he can be found in bars all over Manhattan drinking away his troubles. In the first four books of the series he could do this without many ill effects. However, in Eight Million Ways to Die, Scudder is forced to take his alcoholism seriously, although at the beginning of the novel he is still in denial:
"A block further downtown I realized something. I'd been controlling my drinking for days now, and before that I'd been off the sauce entirely for over a week, and that proved something. Hell, if I could limit myself to two drinks a day, that was fairly strong evidence that I didn't need to limit myself to two drinks a day. I had my problems with alcohol in the past, I couldn't very well deny it, but evidently I had outgrown that stage in my life. So, although I certainly didn't need another drink, I could just as certainly have one if I wanted one. And I did want one, as a matter of fact, so why not have it?
As for the case Scudder takes on in Eight Million Ways to Die it involves a young prostitute, Kim Dakkinen. She seeks out Scudder on the advise of a mutual friend. Kim wants to quit being a call girl but worries what her pimp, Chance, will do if she tells him directly.. So she asks Matthew Scudder if he will approach Chance and convey her message that she wants out.
Scudder says okay, locates Chance, conveys Kim's message. Chance says fine and two days later KIm is brutally murdered in a hotel room. All fingers point to Chance as the killer but he has an alibi and in fact Chance comes to Scudder to hire him to find out who murdered Kim. Scudder is skeptical but Chance puts it as follows:
"Scudder that killer's a loaded gun and I don't know who he's pointed at. Maybe killing Kim's a way for somebody to get at me. Maybe another girl of mine is next on his list. I know one thing. My business is hurting already. I told my girls not to take any hotel tricks, that's for starters, and not to take any new johns if there is anything funny about them. That's like telling them to leave the phone off the hook."
Scudder believes Chance and the rest of the novel goes along two tracks. Matthew Scudder searching for Kim's killer but also dealing with his drinking problem, attending AA meetings and taking his sobriety seriously.
Eight Million Ways to Die is a pivital book in this series since its the book in which Scudder stops drinking but if you are interested in the world of Matthew Scudder this is not the novel I would recommend you start with. It's alot more dark and violent than the prior Scudder books I've read (and that's saying something). But I was particularly disturbed by one episode of vigilante justice that Scudder takes out on a mugger who granted intended to kill him but still Scudder went way overboard and it turned me off a bit.
So, best to begin with the first novel in the series Sins of the Father and become more gradually aquainted with Matthew Scudder, his good points and his bad. As for me I will be on to book six in the series in a few months and it goes without saying Lawrence Block is an amazing writer and at 81 still going strong.