All the Flowers are Dying is the 16th novel in the Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block. I’ve been reading them out of order (when I can get my hands on one), so this is the eighth Scudder book I’ve read. The funny thing is that while reading Block’s Scudder series, I kept asking myself why he never showed more than one point of view. All the Flowers are Dying has a second point of view, that of a serial killer with a seriously depraved mind. I found myself putting the book down when I got to those chapters and trying to find something else to do. Another problem with the novel is that it’s a sequel to the 15th book in the series, Hope to Die. Apparently at the end of Hope to Die, the serial killer is supposedly dead in a house fire. But in reality, he lives and goes on to murder more and in All the Flowers are Dying returns to kill Matt and Elaine Scudder.
6 out of 10 stars.
Since I haven’t read Hope to Die yet, I was surprised in the opening of this novel to learn so many of the Scudders’ friends are now dead. Lisa Holtzmann, Scudder’s old mistress, and Jan, his old lover, are both dead along with a large number of other friends including Scudder’s AA sponsor and old friend Jim Faber. Scudder’s first wife, Anita, is also dead and he now has two granddaughters he knows very little of. Now Joe Durkin the cop is retiring and wants to join forces with Scudder to be a private detective. Scudder isn’t interested since he doesn’t particularly like Joe and isn’t really taking on any new cases.
Meanwhile in Virginia, a serial killer prepares to visit the condemned murderer Preston Applewhite. He pretends to be a psychologist and the warden, John Humphries, allows him free access to Applewhite in the hopes the man will confess to where he buried the body of his first victim, the 11 year-old Willis boy. Applewhite was given the death penalty after murdering three teenage boys, one month apart. The last two victims’ bodies were found brutally raped and tortured and dumped at a golf course. But the Willis kid’s body was never found. The serial killer is calling himself Arne Bodinson. In fact, he always uses the initials A. B. wherever he goes. He knows the case well because he’s actually the one who killed those boys. He was on his way through Richmond, Virginia when he happened upon a basketball game in progress. One of the players was injured and he offered him his handkerchief. The handkerchief was returned with the basketball player’s blood on it and A.B. decided it would be the perfect lynchpin in a diabolical scheme to frame the player, Preston Applewhite, with three horrific murders, child murders. Five years later, days before Applewhite is to get the needle, A.B. ingratiates himself with Applewhite claiming to believe he is innocent. He gloats at his execution. Then he returns to New York City to kill the Scudders.
Scudder is currently working two cases. The first is another AA member, Louise, who has been dating a man named David Thompson who writes direct mail advertisements. But he’s been acting suspicious and she wants Scudder to make sure he’s who he says he is. Scudder and TJ tail the guy, but lose him in a mere block. They find he has a mailbox at a mailbox service and that’s suspicious. But when they find out where he’s sleeping, it’s his car. It seems David lost his job and his girlfriend and let things slide while he was deeply depressed. Before he knew it, he was three months behind in rent and his landlord changed the locks, dumping his belongings on the street. So now he sleeps out of his car and is trying to get enough money to get back into an apartment. By the end of the novel, Louise realizes he’s a nice guy who fell on hard times, so they kiss and make up, so to speak.
Unexpectedly, Elaine’s best friend Monica is murdered. This becomes Scudder’s second case. Monica was seeing a man, a very secretive man, and Elaine knows nothing about him. Monica had a nasty habit of dating married men because she liked it that way. She had no intention of getting married again and dating married men insured she would never get asked. When Elaine discovers the murder weapon was an antique letter opener, she gets a look at it and realizes she sold the murderer the weapon he used on her best friend. And surprisingly, a lot of other deaths in the area all are looking like the work of A.B., a serial killer who murdered dozens of people in the previous novel in the series, Hope to Die.
A great deal of time is spent in this novel getting into the mind of the serial killer, A.B., and that’s so much of the book that there isn’t much to describe in the way of plot. He just kills one person after another for no reason whatsoever. He has divergent M.O.’s which is why they have difficulty connecting all the murders. Even knowing that he is out to kill Matt and Elaine, they still manage to screw up. Matt leaves the apartment without his gun, just to go downstairs to the lobby to get a newspaper, and Elaine, hearing a muffled voice outside the door, assumes it’s Matt only to open it and find A.B. on the other side. Elaine is raped and tortured. Matt is stabbed almost to death. But A.B. is dead, a combination of being beaten to death by Scudder and shot to death by Elaine. They both survive, although Scudder has months of rehabilitation.
Having read enough of Lawrence Block’s books to know how he used to write as opposed to how he now writes, I must admit I like the old Block novels much better. Having the serial killer’s viewpoint was probably necessary to demonstrate just how perverse he was and how many people he’d murdered. The cops will never find all of the bodies. But he’s so depraved I had to constantly put the book down and was very reluctant to finish the novel at all.
If you skip this one, you won’t miss it at all. 6 out of 10 stars.