Book Review : Lawrence Block - A Time to Scatter Stones (2019)
Pre-Order A Time to Scatter Stones here (official release: January 31st)
I’m a firm believer in graceful exits in pop culture. Whether it’s a film franchise, a series or just a character that never seems to go away, I believe that what differentiates the good from the iconic is knowing when to end. That’s why Breaking Bad is considered a masterpiece and The Walking Dead isn’t, for example. So, I was worried to learn that Matthew Scudder, perhaps my favorite detective in all literature, was making a comeback after an eight years hiatus. Why bother reopening what is essentially perfect the way it is, right? I should’ve known his creator Lawrence Block never does anything without a good reason.
A Time to Scatter Stones, while not quintessential Scudder, captures the paradigm shifts that happened in our society over the last couple years like no other works of art I know of.
In this novella, Matthew Scudder and his wife Elaine Mardell are trying to help a young woman who is attending Elaine’s support group for ex-sex workers. She is struggling with a persistent client who just doesn’t take no for an answer, in spite of the fact she retired from the life. He surfs a grey line that keeps him sheltered from the law, but his behavior and demands escalate with each meeting. That sneaky fucker calls himself Paul and loves to fly below police radar. But Scudder is tuned to a different frequency and plans to wiggle him out of the judicial crack he slipped in by any means necessary.
This is perhaps the best explanation of the idea of sexual consent I’ve ever read. It’s been making headlines over the last couple years, because its legal ambiguity lead to rapists avoiding prison. A Time to Scatter Stones illustrates how difficult it can be for a woman to clearly refuse sexual intercourse when they face an inherent threat. The young women Matthew and Elaine are helping “constents” to having intercourse with Paul because she’s too afraid to say no. He always shows up to her apartment unannounced and waltzes in like the place belongs to him, giving orders like a paying client. She says yes because she’s afraid to say no.
Paul creates an unspoken dynamic of fear in order to get what he wants. He gets off on doing what he wants with her and uses money to justify his constantly increasing demands. I don’t know how else you could explain a situation in such nuanced details, but in fiction. I can already tell you some people will say nothing happens in A Time to Scatter Stones and that these people are missing the point of Matthew Scudder novels entirely. Scudder’s always been equal part witness and protagonist of his investigations. He solves crimes, takes care of assholes and watches the world change before him. A Time to Scatter Stones is a perfect microcosm of who he is, in that sense.
Matthew Scudder came back to take care of business in A Time to Scatter Stones. He’s thrown into a problematic situation on the fringes of legality, sorts it out an leaves. He almost feels accessory to what’s going on. It might turn off certain readers, but I thought it was a perfect way come back. Scudder is still walking into the sunset, but he turned back to wave at us one last time. I’m cool with that. I didn’t need a bombastic 400 pages novel in order to be satisfied. A Time to Scatter Stones is a solid parenthesis at the end of a stories career for the detective. Lawrence Block still has it and A Time to Scatter Stones can’t be any more pertinent in 2019.