Time to Murder and Create is the 2nd novel in the Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block. The 17 novels in the Matthew Scudder series can be broken up into the period in which he was drinking, the period in which he was newly sober, and the period after which he was completely sober and married. Since this is the 2nd in the series, Scudder is obviously still drinking and drinking hard. He hasn’t resumed his relationship with Elaine yet and he hasn’t even met Mick Ballou or TJ.
8 out of 10 stars.
Jacob Jablon is a petty thief who has always managed to go free by giving the cops information on other criminals. He carries around a silver dollar and spins it whenever he sits. This has given him the nickname “Spinner”. While on the force Spinner gave Scudder two leads which led to notable collars, so when Spinner asks to meet with Scudder, he agrees. Spinner gives him an envelope and tells him he’ll call his hotel every Friday and leave a message “Your laundry is ready.” As long as he does this, he’s still alive. If he doesn’t make this phone call, then he’s dead, and he wants Scudder to open the envelope he’s given him and read what’s inside. When Scudder asks for more details, Spinner doesn’t elaborate except to say that someone is trying to kill him and he’s not sure who it is. He asks Scudder to name his price for holding onto the envelope and Scudder asks him the price of his suit. $320. And that’s what Spinner gives Scudder.
For seven weeks, Spinner calls Scudder’s hotel and leaves the message, “Your laundry is ready.” Then one fateful Friday he doesn’t. The next morning, Scudder scans the newspaper for obituaries and crimes. He finds the notice right away. A white male, 5’6″, 140 pounds, 45 years old, was found in the East River with a crushed skull. Scudder goes to the precinct that caught the murder and verifies that it was Spinner.
Scudder returns to his hotel and takes out the envelope. Inside are four other envelopes along with a note to Scudder. Spinner tells him that he was blackmailing three people, any of whom may have killed him. He says that someone hopped the curb and tried running him down on the sidewalk and that he’s received death threats. He has included an additional $3,000 for Scudder to find his killer. He doesn’t want him to expose the other two people he is blackmailing, just his murderer.
In the first envelope is the case of Stacy Prager. When she was 19 years old, high on drugs, and without a license she ran down a three year-old riding a tricycle with her car and kept right on driving. The boy died and Stacy never came forward. Spinner was blackmailing her father who made all the evidence go away. Henry Prager was not rich, but wealthy enough to be able to keep paying Spinner. Inside are receipts and photos from the garage where her father Henry took her car to be repaired.
In the second envelope is the case of Beverly Ethridge. Beverly spent two years as a prostitute, porn star, and drug dealer, eventually set free by turning on her partner in crime and testifying against him. Now she’s a pillar of rich society, married to a millionaire who has no clue of her past. Inside the envelope are photos of her porn flicks along with a few video clips.
In the third envelope is the case of Theodore Huysendahl who is currently running for Governor of New York. Huysendahl is a pedophile who likes little boys. He’s paid at least one off who was hospitalized with internal injuries as a result of anal penetration. Inside the envelopes are graphic photographs of Huysendahl anally raping a black ten year-old boy who is crying in pain.
In the fourth envelope is the additional $3,000 for Scudder to find Spinner’s killer.
Scudder’s plan is simple, but also very dangerous. He goes to each of the three individuals that Spinner was blackmailing and tells them he has taken on Spinner’s photos and will be doing the blackmailing from now on. He gives them a price and then exerts some pressure to get the money as soon as possible. Eventually, whoever killed Spinner will try to kill Scudder.
Prager is nervous, but has no clue that Spinner is dead. He’s wondering why Spinner would hand everything over to Scudder. He tells Scudder that Stacy has completely changed her life around and is studying Psychology at Columbia University. She plans on working with retarded children. He claims he doesn’t have much money because he’s had recent financial troubles. But Scudder exerts pressure anyway.
Ethridge keeps making passes at Scudder and tells him she’d rather pay him with sex than with money, but Scudder won’t even call her by her first name. One minute she speaks like a high society girl, the next she speaks with a gutter mouth like a true prostitute. She also claims she has no money and that her husband won’t come into the bulk of his inheritance until October which is six months away. So Scudder agrees to accept $8,000 now and $100,000 in three months, although she says she isn’t sure she can get it in three months rather than six. She also is clueless than Spinner is dead.
Huysendahl doesn’t seen to have any trouble at all with a new blackmailer, but he’s wondering if Spinner is also going to blackmail him and he’ll now have two of them to deal with. He is apparently unaware that Spinner is dead as well. He tells Scudder he’ll give him $100,000 to be rid of the whole thing permanently and Scudder agrees.
Now that the three are on the line, Scudder waits for someone to kill him. As he’s leaving a bar a few blocks from his hotel a car jumps the curb and tries running him over. He escapes. When he gets home, his phone rings. “That was just a warning, Scudder.” So he returns to all three marks the following day and pressures them more. Prager has his secretary ask Scudder to wait for five minutes and as he’s sitting there a gun goes off inside of Prager’s office. He’s killed himself with a gun. Later that day, Stacy Prager comes to visit Scudder and asks him if he knows why her father killed himself. Scudder tells her he has no idea, but the guilt of Prager’s death weighs heavily on him.
Scudder learns that the car that tried running him over was stolen and from the neighborhood that Stacy lives in, but she has no clue who he is or what he’s been doing. She doesn’t know Spinner either. So Scudder meets with Ethridge at a bar across from his hotel. As soon as he leaves, he notices a man following him and assumes the guy is a friend of Ethridge’s. The waitress dubs him the Marlboro man. Marlboro man waits in the next bar for several hours, but finally gives up and leaves before Scudder. The following night, however, he stalks him, jumps from an alleyway and tries to stab Scudder with a knife. He knows his name and he wants him dead. After a fight, Scudder finally gets the upper hand and flips him over his head. Marlboro man falls poorly and breaks his neck. The police runs his prints and it comes back that he’s none other than John Lundgren, the man Beverly Ethridge testified against to go free. He was her former lover and partner in crime.
Now that Scudder knows Ethridge was the one who tried killing him, he gives her envelope and all of the dirt on her to the police. Her husband files for divorce and she is left without anything. But she tells Scudder she bears no ill will against him, especially when she discovers he wasn’t really going to blackmail her and was just trying to find Spinner’s killer.
Just as Scudder tells Huysendahl that he’s not really a blackmailer and he’s found Spinner’s killer so he won’t be seeing him again, the police call Scudder and tell them Lundgren couldn’t have killed Spinner because he was in jail at the time. For an entire month. Scudder pieces together the evidence and realizes the guy in the car and the guy who killed Spinner were both part of Huysendahl’s political campaign group trying to make sure their candidate made it to the governor’s office. So he goes to Huysendahl’s office and tells him that he’s not going to run for governor. He’s going to withdraw. Because if it doesn’t, those photos of him raping that ten year-old boy will be plastered all over every newspaper in the state of New York.
Time to Murder and Create is a great novel, but I liked it less than A Walk Among the Tombstones and A Dance at the Slaughterhouse. This one had a handful of Scudder’s old friends, but not the ones I’m used to or the ones I like. I rather like the Mick Ballou character as well as TJ, so the novels in the middle of the series are among my favorites. I also could not understand, knowing Scudder’s character from the other novels in the series, why he let a pedophile and murderer go off so lightly. It’s certainly not in line with his behavior in the other novels. What makes Scudder such a readable character is his sense of justice. But justice was not served in this one.
8 out of 10 stars for a wonderful novel. Anything by Lawrence Block is a pretty good read and far better than any of the new fiction coming out.
As for the novel’s title, I have long since given up any hope of understanding how the novels in this series were titled. The title has nothing to do with the novel, except for A Walk Among the Tombstones which refers to one particular scene in the novel.
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