Everybody Dies is the 14th novel in the Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block. Although Block’s writing has significantly deteriorated (the dialogue is nothing more than sentence fragments with no subject and no verb) the plot was at least engaging. 6 out of 10 stars.
As the title says, in this installment, almost everybody who Mathew Scudder and Mick Ballou know dies. By the novel’s end, the death toll is significant.
Mathew Scudder gets a call from his criminal friend, Mick Ballou. Mick owns a bar called Grogan’s and he steals from drug dealers. Sometimes he steals from other criminals. Mick shows up to get Scudder and Andy Buckley, his driver, is with him. They drive out to Mick’s farm in upstate New York where an old Irish couple, the O’Garas, take care of the property. And they go to the orchard with a shovel, take turns digging a large grave, and dump two bodies inside. The bodies are of two young Irish boys in their early twenties fresh off the plane from Ireland. They’ve been working at Mick’s bar. Then Scudder tells how they came to be burying the bodies.
Mick’s bar was running low on whiskey and so Mick sent John Kenny and Barry McCartney to one of his storage lockers out in Jersey where he kept 60 cases of fine whiskey. When hours passed and the boys didn’t return, Mick drove out there himself to check on them. What he found was a locker empty of all the booze except for one bottle of bourbon tossed into the corner and Kenny and McCartney’s bodies. Both lads were shot twice in the head, once in the temple and once in the ear, a trademark of this particular killer.
So Mick called Scudder and picked him up to take him to the crime scene. He hires Scudder to find out who killed the boys. Then they dispose of the bodies and the evidence, except for the glass fragments which may eventually prove useful if they ever find someone to compare fingerprints.
Mick Ballou is known as Butcher Boy Ballou. He sometimes wears a white butchers’ apron that’s covered with blood, some of it human, and he carries a cleaver. Rumors say that he once had an enemy named Paddy Farrelly and eventually the two fought to the death and Mick prevailed. Soon after Mick was seen carrying a bowling bag from bar to bar and opening this bag to reveal the head of Paddy Farrelly. Over the years, Scudder has become Mick’s best friend and even he doesn’t know if the rumors are true. But a killer? Yes, Mick is most definitely a killer. He and Scudder have killed before (Dance at the Slaughterhouse).
Scudder’s first trip is to the storage facility in New Jersey to get the names of people who own the other units. TJ helps him track down the people on the list and no one saw or heard anything that day.
That night two white men grab Scudder as he’s walking home and warn him to stay away from helping Mick Ballou. They begin beating him up, but Scudder gets the upper hand and ends up beating them and taking their guns. His mistake is in letting them loose. That proves to be a mistake that many of Scudder’s friends will pay for by the novels’ end.
Scudder shows up for his regular Sunday dinner with his AA sponsor Jim Faber, a man he’s known for decades. Coincidentally, they are dressed the same–tan windbreakers over red polo shirts and khaki pants. Now if Scudder had half a brain he’d realize that’s dangerous when he has someone out to hurt him. But he doesn’t pay any attention and goes to the bathroom. While in the john, he hears gunshots and comes running out. He chases the gunman into the street but can’t get a look at him. Back inside, he goes to his table and finds Jim dead, shot twice in the head the same as poor Kenny and McCartney.
Detective George Wiser catches the case and questions Scudder for four hours. He’s in shock the entire time. When the shock wears off, he finally walks home and tells his wife Elaine that Jim is dead.
He can’t sleep that night and shows up at Mick’s bar. Mick tells him that he also lost someone that day, an old friend who worked for him loaning money to people in the neighborhood. His name was Peter Rooney and Mick found him beaten and stabbed to death. While they’re sitting there in the back of the bar talking, Scudder notices his old mistress sitting nearby, Lisa Holtzmann. She’s talking with a man about their relationship. He’s wearing a wedding ring. Lisa isn’t. Because Scudder is distracted, he doesn’t notice two men enter the bar with weapons and a bomb. Mick does and lifts a table to block the bullets while knocking Scudder to the floor. The bomb is thrown into the bar, knocking most people to the floor. Then bullets fly across the crowded bar. When they stop, Mick stands and shoots the gunman. By then the bomber has already escaped.
Lisa Holtzmann and the married man she was seeing are both dead. Burke the bartender is also dead. Everyone lying on the floor is dead. Mick grabs Scudder and drags him out the front door where Tom and Andy are waiting. Tom and Andy were in the back room when it happened and standard protocol is to get the car and wait out front for Mick. The four of them drive away.
In the newspaper the following morning, the death toll is listed as 12 dead and 7 wounded. His old friend, famous attorney Ray Gruliow calls to hire Scudder and Scudder tells him about the two incidents, Jim’s death and the shootout at the bar, must be connected because he witnessed both in less than 24 hours. So Ray becomes Scudder’s attorney and he calls Mick’s attorney, Mark Rosenstein and has Mick hire Scudder so he’ll be protected from having to reveal any information. The umbrella of attorney-client privilege will extend to him if the police question him.
Scudder takes a trip to Ray Galindez’ house. He’s a police sketch artist with amazing talent. Scudder describes the man who held the gun in his face and tried to beat him up and Ray sketches a perfect likeness. Ray takes Scudder through a relaxation and visualization exercise to access his subconscious and give details about the second man who beat him up, but instead another face keeps popping into Scudder’s head, so Ray sketches him. Scudder saw the man leaving Mick’s bar right before the shootout and something about him was familiar although Scudder has no idea who he is.
Scudder takes both sketches and makes copies to show around town. And his first stop is the information broker on the street, Danny Boy Bell. Danny is an old friend of Scudder’s and happily surprised to see him alive. Apparently the newspaper printed that Scudder was killed at a restaurant by a lone gunman the previous day. So the two of them surmise that the killer bragged, thinking he’d killed the man he was sent in to kill. Before he discovered he’d shot the wrong man. The hit looked professional and he’d shot the wrong man, so there would probably be problems with payment. That gives Danny something to work with.
Scudder learns that, according to witnesses, the man who shot Jim was black. And the man who was holding the automatic weapon that killed all those people at Grogan’s bar was Vietnamese. Mick and Scudder stepped over the guy’s body to get out the door. While Danny works on finding out who the black guy is, TJ works on finding out who the Vietnamese guy is. All the cops know is that he was in a famous movie and his name starts with NG. So TJ finds him through the guy’s sister. His father is black and his mother is Vietnamese and his name was Nguyen Tran Bao who did time at Attica Prison.
Danny discovers the name of the black hit man is Chilton Purvis and he gives Scudder the man’s address. It seems those who hired Purvis were not happy that he killed the wrong man. They’d paid him $2K in advance and owed him another $2K, but now they refuse to pay because of the mistake. So Scudder takes $2,000 of his own money and TJ to Purvis’s apartment. His idea is to offer Purvis $2,000 to tell him who hired him. Scudder is wearing a Kevlar vest and a gun. TJ is armed with nothing but wit and a smile.
Purvis lives in a dump and says sure he’ll take the $2,000, he’ll even give Scudder the guy’s phone number. But he reaches for a gun and fires off several shots before Scudder shoots back and hits him. He refuses to tell Scudder anything and it appears he really doesn’t know who hired him. Scudder turns around and finds TJ on the floor, shot in the thigh. Scudder leaves Purvis to die, carries TJ to a cab and rushes home to Elaine who knows an off-the-books doctor who will make house calls. The doctor removes the bullet and TJ sails through it.
Mick calls Scudder. That night the four of them survived the bar, Mick dropped off Tom and Andy at their homes and showed Scudder where he’d be hiding out. Only Scudder knows the location and Mick’s cell phone number. So Scudder calls him back. They drive around and go back to Mick’s hideout and Scudder shows him the two sketches. The guy who beat up Scudder is not familiar. The other one is. It’s Paddy Farrelly except Mick killed Paddy thirty years ago and chopped off his head. Now Scudder knows at least some of the legend is true.
Scudder goes to the vital records department for New York City and looks for any children born around the time Paddy Farrelly died who had a father of the same name. And he finds a boy named Gary Allen Dowling who was four years old when Mick killed Paddy. Gary was Paddy’s bastard son by Elizabeth Ann Dowling.
Danny gives Scudder more information in the way of someone recognizing the other sketch, the guy who tried beating up Scudder. His name is Donnie Scalzo and he also did time at Attica prison. So Scudder flies up to Buffalo and visits Attica prison. He learns that Gary Allen Dowling also did time at Attica and was just released two months ago. He did 12 years of a 20 year sentence for murdering three people during a holdup.
When Scudder gets home Elaine tells him there’s a creepy message on the phone. The message is from Gary Dowling warning Scudder off the case. She took the phone off the hook after Dowling called so Scudder could dial *69 and get the number that called him. Hopefully he can track Dowling down that way. But no one answers the phone when he dials *69 and then he keeps hitting redial, dialing the same number. They use the other phone extension, keeping the one line connected to the phone Dowling called from.
While at Attica, Dowling met Scalzo and another inmate, Virgil “Moon” Gafter. He was the guy who threw the bomb into Grogan’s bar. Mick calls and Scudder meets him, but right before he leaves he pushed the redial button on his phone and hears a familiar voice, so he hangs up. They drive around in his car and Scudder tells him what he’s learned. Mick drives to Tom’s house because Tom hasn’t been answering the phone but neither has his house-bound landlady who always answers. When they get there, they discover both of them dead and Tom’s face kicked in as well as having two shots to the head.
Mick has a suspicion and they go and pick up Andy who comes up with a plan to trap Dowling and his thugs out at Mick’s farm. But he insists on stopping at his house first to get his mom to go out of town. While he’s inside, Mick calls Andy’s number and the phone is busy. As he later explains it, Mick knew that either Andy or Tom was a rat because they were the only ones who knew that Kenny and McCartney were going to the storage unit. And someone has been feeding Dowling information.
Andy drives them out to the farm and a few miles short of the farm, Mick asks him to pull over. Andy makes an excuse and keeps driving until Mick grabs him by the neck and forces him to the side of the road. Andy confesses to being the rat and says he did it for money. Mick snaps his neck and kills him. The O’Garas who run Mick’s farm are dead and Dowling and his thugs are waiting to ambush them, so Mick and Scudder take the back route to the farm, across state property. They sneak up on the farm through the livestock pens and find all the pigs and hens riddled with bullets. So they sneak to the shed and make Molotov cocktails (jars with lighter fluid and rags) they take to the side of the house.
They leave the jars and sneak around the outside looking for sentries. They find one and Mick kills him. Now they only have Dowling and whoever is in the house with him. Since there are only two of them and the O’Garas are already dead, they cut the power and throw the fire bombs into the house until it catches fire. Scudder takes one entrance and Mick takes the other and they shoot whoever comes out.
One guy comes out the back and Scudder kills him. Donnie Scalzo comes out and Scudder kills him too. Two guys rush out at the same time. Mick kills one and the other is Moon Gafter, who’s quite large. They both shoot Moon eight times before he finally goes down. Dowling comes out, shoots at them until he’s out of bullets, and makes a run for it. Mick chases him down and cuts his head off with the cleaver and carries it up to Scudder. They look at the house, totally ablaze now and Mick tosses the head into the fire. They gather all the evidence–shells, guns, bombs, etc–and toss them into the fire. Then they leave.
For two months after Mick goes to live with the monks on Staten Island. Then he comes back and begins rebuilding Grogan’s Bar. Meanwhile, George Wiser and Joe Durkin, a cop who is supposed to be Scudder’s friend, harass him. Ray Gruliow acts as Scudder’s attorney and stops him from saying anything so the cops take away Scudder’s private detective license.
In one fell swoop, Block eliminated several of the series’ recurring characters. I can’t imagine why. The dialogue was horrible in this novel. Not at all realistic, especially the dialogue attributed to Scudder’s wife Elaine. No woman talks that way. Not even a former hooker who gloats when telling her husband about past affairs and walks around the house naked. Considering she’s pushing sixty, that’s a really gross picture to put in the reader’s head.
In addition to the ridiculously bad dialogue, the chapters are disjointed and don’t follow well. There are no transitions, just chunks of conversations with huge time lapses in between. It’s as though pages are missing.
6 out of 10 stars. The earlier books in the series are much better. Honestly, just stop reading after Walk Among the Tombstones.