I think if you’re an enthusiastic reader there’s sometimes a tendency to fall in love a little bit with authors. Not in a sexual way, but in the way where you enjoy spending time with them, where you miss them when they’re not around and find yourself looking forward to spending time with them again. Because of this bond, so too can we feel betrayal from our favorite authors.
Lawrence Block is a very well-respected crime/mystery writer who has been creating stories for a long time. He’s written multiple series, but he’s best known for his Matthew Scudder series of crime novels. Scudder is an ex-cop, living and working as an unlicensed private investigator, and dealing with his own personal demons and his alcoholism and through Block’s masterful pen we grow closer to, and identify with, this richly complex and multi-dimensional character.
Through 10 books I’ve grown to know Matthew Scudder well and I’ve fallen in love with Lawrence Block a little bit. And now I feel betrayed by Lawrence Block.
I’m buzzing along through the series and enjoying each story more than the previous one, which is really difficult because I thought Eight Million Ways to Die was an amazingly good book. So now I’m in book 11, 1993’s The Devil Knows Your Dead, and our hero takes a client to see a lawyer named Drew Kaplan. Kaplan asks for a $5,000 retainer, which is money the client doesn’t have, and after some finagling they eventually settle on $200. Says Scudder: “See? They’re all alike. They start out high, but you can generally Jew them down.”
Matthew Scudder has always been a character who operates by his own morals, and his questionable ethics have been interesting to experience but I don’t recall him ever being offensive like this and for me the change is disturbing. So much so, that I put the book down and two days later have yet to pick it back up again. I’d like to finish the book – and the series – but I don’t think I will. I don’t know if I can.
It’s not really what Scudder said that I question so much, it’s that he said it that really bothers me. It’s a very anti-Semitic comment and it’s totally out of character. I can accept anything a character might say or do in a story as long as it’s consistent with the character. As to Scudder’s offensive word choice, I could even accept it coming from him if that belief was in keeping with the character. For example, if this were a series with Archie Bunker as an unlicensed private investigator, I would expect him to be making hateful and offensive comments like that and I wouldn’t be surprised when he did. I might still be offended, but I wouldn’t be surprised and I would keep reading. But with Scudder, it’s different because never before in any of the previous 10 books had he given any indication that those were his thoughts or that he was prone to making anti-Semitic comments. This was an out of the blue comment and a shock.
Maybe I’m overreacting, but I don’t think so only because I’m not reacting to the language or that it was said in the context of a story, I’m reacting to the sudden and unexplained change in character.
So I’m a little sad because not only do I feel a betrayed by Lawrence Block, but I think I fell out of love with him as well.
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