Wednesday, May 3, 2023


Hey, I get it. You’re puzzled, and I understand your confusion.
I’m sitting at my computer, looking at the Amazon page for The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder, which is currently available for preorder in advance of its release date of June 24th. (That date, two months off as I write these lines, is my birthday. One of the minor delights of self-publishing is that you get to give yourself a brand-new book as a birthday present.)
A wee banner on the Amazon page advises me that this handsome new book is the “#1 New Release in Biographies of Law Enforcement,” and I must admit that’s a distinction to which I’d never thought to aspire. And just above that banner, the book’s identified as “Book 20 of 20 in the Matthew Scudder series.” And when I scroll down I learn that, strictly on the basis of preorders,  in the Kindle store it’s already #1288 in Crime Fiction.
Biography? Fiction?
I can explain. Sort of.
A publisher friend suggested I write a few thousand words for a pamphlet about Matthew Scudder, whose adventures I’ve been chronicling in real time for over half a century. I recoiled at the idea; for all the books and stories I’ve written with Scudder as narrator and protagonist, that’s rather different from writing about him. 
Then I thought of a way to do it. I could hand the microphone—or, more literally, turn over the computer—to the man himself. In the fictive world where all of this takes place, Lawrence Block, who has been speaking in Scudder’s voice and shaping the fellow’s cases into works of fiction, might now invite Scudder to sit down at his computer in his apartment in the Parc Vendome and tell his own story in his own words.
Once I hit on this approach, I knew this wouldn’t be an essay or an article or a pamphlet, that what I would have to write would be a full book. And I was astonished to find myself writing a book, having just a month or two earlier surprised myself with a new Bernie Rhodenbarr book, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown, but from the first day it felt very right to me.
And it was a voyage of discovery, because I kept learning new things about my long-time protagonist. His boyhood, his family background, his aunts and uncles. The lives his parents led, and how they died. The curious path that led him to the Police Academy, and how he wound up with a detective’s gold shield.
There’s a moment where Scudder, at his computer, wonders if anyone’s going to be interested in all of this, and I wondered myself. But was interested, fiercely interested, and I kept on writing for the same reason one keeps on reading. I wanted to find out what would happen next.
Because it's easier to show than tell you what I mean, I’ve posted a generous chunk of The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder on my website, something like ten percent of the complete book. If you read it, I shouldn’t think you’ll have much trouble deciding whether or not you want to read the rest.
And part of the answer may lie in your own history with Matt Scudder. An early reviewer for Shelf Inflicted, Dan Schwent, summed up like so: “Is the Autobiography of Matthew Scudder essential? Probably not. Will Matthew Scudder fans want to read it? Absolutely.”  
That squares with my own sense of things. If you’re a longstanding Scudder enthusiast, you may find the book almost as fascinating as I do. But I can’t imagine someone who’s never read a Scudder novel, or picked one up only to toss it aside, finding anything compelling in TAOMS.
But I could be wrong.
I sent an advance copy to my friend David Morrell, creator of Rambo (First Blood) and author of Murder as a Fine Art. David responded with a terrific blurb which I’ll feature in the online book description, and added a longer comment, saying I could use it if I wanted. 
I’ll use it here and now:

“I always knew that Lawrence Block was among the most compelling and skillful of crime novelists. Now I discover that he’s also a brilliant meta novelist, in the tradition of John Barth and Jorge Luis Borges. In THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MATTHEW SCUDDER, Block’s popular private-investigator character tells us about the events (some of them poignant, others heartbreaking, and several of them violent) that inspired 17 novels, numerous short stories, and 2 movies about him.

“The suggestion is that Scudder is a real person who confided in Block and allowed Block to invent fictional versions of events in Scudder’s life. Now Scudder nudges Block aside, faces the keyboard, and tells the real story behind the stories about him. The first-person confessional tone is convincing, not to mention fascinating.

“But I couldn’t help thinking of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MATTHEW SCUDDER as an example of how characters can become so real for a novelist that they assume control. I imagined Block approaching his desk each day and turning into Matthew Scudder yet again, channeling a character who occupied his imagination for 49 years and now perhaps for the last time. A valediction as much as a fictional autobiography. A fascinating example of how author and character become one. That meta layer in this terrific book made me admire it even more.”

Um, yes—believe it or not, I think I’ll use that. The comparison to Barth and Borges left me a little dizzier than usual, especially knowing that they were names David could drop with authority; he wrote a critical study of John Barth’s work and taught Borges in his Modern Fiction course at the University of Iowa. “When it comes to meta,” he confided, “I learned from the masters.”
It is indeed a head-turning compliment, right up there with one I received from my very first reader, my wife Lynne. She told me she kept having to remind herself that what she was reading was fiction.
Photo Credit: Amy Jo Block


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