A Ticket to the Boneyard is the eighth novel in the Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block. This one, too, was disappointing.
6 out of 10 stars for what would’ve been a great novel but for the last fourth of the book.
It’s November and getting cold when Matthew Scudder, or as my book club has dubbed him Mattress Slutter, gets several phone messages from an old friend and an old lover, Elaine Mardell. He calls her back and she’s anxious, asking him to come to her apartment immediately. Years earlier, Slutter and Elaine had what he calls a “nonmarriage of convenience”. She was a hooker and his mistress and he spent time with her to avoid his wife and kids. Now someone near and dear to both of them has been murdered and it’s someone the three of them put behind bars twelve years ago, James Leo Motley.
When he appears at Elaine’s home, she shows him a newspaper clipping that was mailed to her. The clipping is for a brutal murder-suicide that took place in Ohio. Philip Sturdevant apparently butchered his three children with a knife as they slept, then stabbed his wife, and ended it all by shooting himself. His wife, Cornelia Sturdevant, was Connie Cooperman, a former prostitute who helped Slutter and Elaine put Motley in prison. And after he was sentenced, he promised to kill Slutter and “all his women”.
They sit together and brainstorm what must have happened. The envelope was postmarked New York, which meant Motley murdered Connie and her family, stayed in town long enough for the local newspaper to print the story, clipped it, and came to New York and mailed it to her. That’s very calculating, very patient, and very cold.
Thirteen years before, Elaine had a john who claimed he was referred by one of her other clients. But he failed to give a name. He brutalized her, sodomized her, and beat her, using his two fingers to inflict serious pain in her rib cage and inner thigh. Deep bruises appeared a day later, but the pain had been severe enough to render her helpless against him. He never paid her, took all of her money, and told her he’d return again and again and she’d let him. The second time he called her she refused to see him. But when she came home days later, he was inside her apartment and raped and brutalized her again, stealing her cash before leaving. So she called her cop friend Mattress Slutter. Slutter arranged to be there the next time Motley showed up. And he felt first hand the power in the man’s hands. Motley does the same thing to Slutter, rendering him helpless, but when he switches hands, Slutter punches him. Turns out Motley has a glass jaw. One hit and he’s down and out. While he’s unconscious, Slutter plants a gun on him and makes it appear that Motley shot at him.
Attempted murder of a cop is a serious thing. Motley is found guilty in less than three hours. But the judge sentences him to 1 to 9 years, which is hardly anything. To Slutter and Elaine’s surprise, Motley was less than a model prisoner and ended up killing four other inmates, so he ended up serving 12 years. That’s a long time in prison. And the three people who testified against him were Slutter, Elaine, and Connie.
Slutter uses his cop contacts and discovers that Motley served 12 years. He was released in July and since he’s not on parole, he has no obligation to tell anyone where he is staying, but Slutter is convinced he’s living in Manhattan. So he has a locksmith come over and add police locks to Elaine’s doors. When he returns to his hotel, he finds the same newspaper clipping waiting for him in his mail.
Slutter hops a plane to Ohio and drives to Massillon, Ohio where Connie Sturdevant lived with her husband Philip and three children. He meets Lt. Tom Havlicek and they take a drive to the Sturdevant home. He asks him several questions and discovers the case was opened and closed within hours of discovery of the bodies. It’s unlikely they’ll reopen the case, even if there’s evidence of foul play. But they go to see the coroner and Slutter asks him to check if Connie was raped or sodomized. He returns to say she was violently sodomized. Next, Slutter asks him to check her ribcage or inner thighs for wounds. Sure enough, there is significant tissue damage in both places, Motley’s favorite pain points. Slutter asks Havlicek if they ever checked the blood on Philip Sturdevant’s body to see if it all was his, or there was some from his wife and children. No one checked. So now they have two things to check, the semen found in Connie’s anus and the blood on Philip’s body.
Slutter returns to New York and hires Ray Galindez, a cop sketch artist, to come over and sketch Motley and then age the sketch to what he probably looks like now, 12 years later. Slutter copies the sketches, hands them out all around town along with his business card which has his name and phone number. While Slutter is beating the bushes, leaving sketches of Motley and his business card all around town, especially Manhattan, a bouquet of flowers is delivered to Elaine’s apartment. She assumes they’re from Slutter. They’re not. They get into an argument and he gets nasty, eventually leaving and that’s a big part of the downside of this novel. Block can’t write romance. And much of this particular installment is the “romance” between Slutter and Elaine.
Slutter has a lot of “relationships” with inappropriate women. In the last book I read, he was 55 and cheating on his significant other with a 30 year old who had daddy issues. Her father had repeatedly raped her as a child and she’d told him all about it. So he used what she told him about what her father did to her, and did those exact same things to her, so she’d keep him around as a father figure sex toy. I find that rather disgusting. But once you’ve read it, you can’t unread it. Now in each novel I read about his sexploits and cringe. Holy inappropriateness. Hence the nickname from my book club, Mattress Slutter. He met Elaine when he was married to his wife Anita. He slept with Elaine twice a week, sometimes more. He’s never had a relationship where he didn’t cheat on his significant other, even when it’s Elaine. This is the novel where he picks up his relationship with Elaine a second time and he’s quite a jerk at it. For most of the novel, he leaves her to her own devices which ends up almost killing her. But the two of them do have some chemistry. Not enough to sustain a relationship, but enough to keep each other company once a week.
Shortly after Elaine discovers the flowers are from Motley, he calls her and tells her he’s going to kill her second to last, right before Slutter. But until then he’s going to kill Slutter’s other women and since he doesn’t really have any, Motley uses the term loosely, killing off women who are near Slutter or share his name. The next is a woman from Slutter’s AA group, Tony Cleary. Motley rapes and sodomizes her, using his handy pain-inducing fingers to cripple her. Then he throws her out a window and she falls to her death below, right on top of a 22 year-old out walking with his girlfriend. Cleary and the young man are killed instantly, their body parts mixed together in blood and guts. Motley calls Elaine to give her the news and Slutter calls every woman he knows to warn them to get out of town, especially his ex-wife Anita and his ex-girlfriend Jan.
For Slutter, Tony’s death is a wakeup call. Now he’s afraid to go to his regular AA meetings for fear that Motley will kill the women present. He goes to Tony’s apartment with his cop contact Joe Durkin, but has no evidence that points to Motley. Then he gets a phone call from someone who claims to know where Motley is living. He follows directions to a bar in a dark alley in a crappy section of New York. There, a transvestite named Candy is waiting for him. She leads him directly into an ambush where Motley beats the crap out of him, leaving him with kidney damage and barely breathing. Slutter barely makes it back to the road and a taxi picks him up. He insists on going home rather than the hospital which proves to be stupid. Two days later, when he can actually walk and isn’t pissing blood, he goes to visit Joe Durkin who tells him Motley has filed a restraining order against him. Apparently Motley claims that Slutter is stalking him. Durkin refuses to take an assault complaint against Motley and kicks Slutter out. So much for “friends”.
Two days later, Motley calls Slutter and tells him he’s killed again, one of his relatives. Slutter combs the newspaper and discovers the recent murder of Elizabeth Scudder who lived three miles away from him and was no relation whatsoever. She’d been tortured, raped, and sodomized and her body decapitated and otherwise surgically altered. He’s tempted for a second to call all the other Scudders in the phone book to warn them, but a bout of serious self-pity stops him and he goes back to bed.
Meanwhile, Lt. Havlicek has been doing some checking of his own with the sketch that Slutter sent him. He finds a motel where Motley was staying in Massillon, Ohio. It’s still not enough to reopen the case.
Slutter gets a phone call from his friend Danny Boy who has someone with information on Motley for him. They meet at Danny Boy’s favorite bar and the guy turns out being another inmate from Cell Block E at Dannemora Prison. His name’s Brian and he’s seen Motley in town. He recognized Motley, but Motley didn’t recognize him. Brian has one of those faces that looks like everyone else’s. So he tells Slutter where Motley’s been staying with a woman of the last name Lepcourt. Slutter gives him $200 and gives Danny Boy $200 and then leaves to find Mick where he spends the next 24 hours watching Mick get drunk and swap stories. What he doesn’t know is that while he is with Mick, Motley has killed a cop, taken his uniform, and gone to Elaine’s apartment, pretending to be that cop. She opens the door and Motley overtakes her, torturing her, raping, and sodomizing her for two long hours until the doorman knocks on the door. Then he repeatedly stabs Elaine, almost to death, and leaves her there. Motley is in the wind; Elaine is almost dead.
While with Mick, Slutter gets an unlicensed gun with the serial numbers sanded off. Motley has killed five people in Ohio (Connie and her family), Tony, Elizabeth, and the boy Tony landed on. He’s trying to psych himself up to killing Motley. He’s barely back at his hotel when he learns what’s happened to Elaine. He rushes to the hospital, but keeps hearing from the doctors that she’s dying. She suffered massive internal bleeding and organ damage. Motley inserted things inside of her to make her injuries more painful and more severe before stabbing her. She can’t breathe on her own and she’s had multiple surgeries.
Slutter leaves and goes to Motley’s apartment, sneaks up the fire escape, and crawls in through the window. But Motley is waiting for him and strikes first. They fight and eventually Slutter clips his jaw, knocking Motley completely out. Slutter takes out his gun, puts it in Motley’s hand, puts the barrel in Motley’s mouth, and makes it look like a suicide. He writes a suicide note in lipstick on the wall, removes his own fingerprints, and leaves. When he gets to see Elaine, he whispers to her that Motley is dead, that he killed him, and that the monster will never hurt her again.
Surprisingly, Elaine lives. And the only people who know that Slutter killed Motley are Elaine and Mick, his two best friends.
6 out of 10 stars. Disappointing ending.