Book Review : Lawrence Block - A Ticket to the Boneyard (1990)
Matthew Scudder is one of the longest standing, most beloved private detectives in literature. He achieved this status by not only being terrific at his job, but by also leading a spirited fight against his own alcoholism. He actively fights the very thing that makes characters like him cliché, despite living a life that constantly drives him to the bottle. A Ticket to the Boneyard is the eighth Matthew Scudder novel and it somehow feels fresh and completely different from its seven predecessors, while adding new pieces to the ongoing human puzzle that is Scudder. I don't know how Lawrence Block does it, guys. I just don't.
That is some straight up wizardry.
So, in A Ticket to the Boneyard, Matthew Scudder is called by an old client of his Elaine Mardell, who believes the man that set them on each other's path is out killing again. Twelve years ago, Scudder and a handful of women conspired to send James Leo Motley to jail. Motley was feral and dangerous, yet incredibly apt at using the justice system to his favor, so they.... sandpapered the facts in order to get a conviction. Now, Motley is out again and he swore to take out "Scudder's women" one by one and keep him for last.
A Ticket to the Boneyard is, mostly, a psychological thriller about violence against women. It's always an ambitious order for a male writer because it's not something they'll ever be a victim of. They might face it sometime in their lives, but men always have the nice savior part whenever a woman is victim of violence. Lawrence Block managed to write a convincing novel on the subject by crafting a terrifying antagonist and keeping it about him. A Ticket to the Boneyard is a study on what kind of man turn violent in order to gain power, for whom women are easy prey.
I was fascinated by James Leo Motley. Lawrence Block made his presence felt on every page of A Ticket to the Boneyard, despite him almost never showing up. I believe he only appears two or three times in the entire novel and the rest of the time, Scudder and Elaine live in fear of him. Of what he might do. He's 100% unpredictable because he's both insanely smart and incapable of dealing with the slightest annoyance. So, you never know what will set him off, yet live in constant fear of a retaliation you won't see coming. I'm not saying it's how abused women feel, but I imagine it's something close to that.
Lawrence Block is the master of "same, but different." A Ticket to the Boneyard couldn't be any more different than the oddly quiet and reflexive Out on the Cutting Edge. It's tense, claustrophobic and doesn't shy away from the gory details. But it's also another step in the evolution of Matthew Scudder, a deeper venture into the psychological maze that is his mind. And this time, you get to understand Scudder through direct confrontation. He doesn't have the time to philosophize on much in A Ticket to the Boneyard and I appreciated that. A violent, visceral Matthew Scudder novel and a nice curve ball in the character's evolution.