Thursday, April 27, 2023

One Last Round for April

What I’m Reading

The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder, by Lawrence Block (2023). I’m faced with a tricky proposition in recommending this book, which I am absolutely doing. For one thing, it doesn’t come out until June 24, which also happens to be the author’s eighty-fifth birthday. (Preorders, as always, are welcome.) For another, I’m urging it on a very specific audience, namely people who have already made Matt Scudder’s acquaintance—and have ideally read most if not all of the books and short stories in which the character appears. Luckily, I fit both bills.

Scudder first appeared in The Sins of the Fathers (1976), and the alcoholic ex-NYPD cop turned quasi-private eye has walked the streets of the Big Apple ever since, aging in something close to real time. Larry Block, meanwhile, has embraced the changes in the publishing business to release adventurous books like Dead Girl Blues (2020), among the darkest work of his career (and is that saying something), and last year’s The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown, in which he addresses the many challenges facing his long-running character Bernie Rhodenbarr by saying, “Fuck it, PARALLEL UNIVERSE!

This latest book is even more inventive, in that it is exactly what the title promises: a fictional character telling you his life story, or at least all the bits that Block chose not to include elsewhere. Scudder purports to be a real person in these pages, one whose exploits have been turned into fiction by a novelist—and Scudder isn’t entirely happy with some of the changes that scribe has wrought. (We even hear from Block occasionally if indirectly in his instructions to his subject.) It’s evident from his handling of this meta approach that Block hasn’t lost much speed off his fastball. But for devoted readers (like me), there’s an element of pure wish fulfillment at play. The book is essentially a chance to tug the sleeve of a character we’ve gotten to know quite well and offer to buy him another cup of coffee before he heads out, to hear an additional story or two and ask questions long wondered about. It’s an impressive trick that requires decades of work on the part of both writer and reader to carry off. You need to know Matt Scudder in order to appreciate this book, and if you know Matt Scudder you’ve already ordered it.

What I’m Watching

No Bears
(2022). The Criterion Channel is the exclusive streaming home for this remarkable film, which is yet another reason to sign up for the service. (Who else would bring you, in the same month, this movie and a lineup of erotic thrillers including 1994’s Dream Lover, featured in my survey of Hitchcock movies not directed by Alfred Hitchcock?) Jafar Panahi plays himself, an Iranian filmmaker barred from leaving his homeland because of his political beliefs. Undaunted, he journeys to the Turkish border so he can direct a docudrama remotely. As that project takes unexpected and disturbing turns, Panahi finds his presence—and his images—drawn into village life in ways that illuminate his own standing in Iran. A powerful work of art. (And on the day that I’m composing this come reports that Panahi has been allowed to leave Iran for the first time in fourteen years.)

What I’m Drinking

Time to sing the praises of another book at which I got a sneak peek. Eddie Muller’s Noir Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the World of Film Noir, available May 23, is a gorgeous volume, and I’d say that even if my name didn’t appear in it several times. Eddie—my friend, colleague, Turner Classic Movies host, founder of the Film Noir Foundation, and imbiber extraordinaire—spotlights fifty cocktails, some classic, some original, each one linked to a classic film noir. It’s written with Eddie’s usual erudition and verve and it’s beautifully laid out, making it a cocktail book you can actually read from cover to cover. I christened it with one of Eddie’s creations, the Sailor Beware, crafted to commemorate Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1948). As Eddie writes: “I felt it needed to be done in the true Wellesian spirit: something brash and startling, using ingredients rarely if ever combined, assembled in a totally unexpected way—and then I’d walk away before I finished making it.” (Time now for a gratuitous reminder that Orson is a recurring character in the novels of Renee Patrick.)

Sailor Beware

1 ¼ oz. Irish whiskey
¾ oz. brandy
½ oz. green chartreuse
½ oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
absinthe rinse
lemon peel twist

Stir the first four ingredients, then let them rest in the mixing glass. Rinse a Nick and Nora glass with absinthe. Strain. Express the oil from a lemon peel over the surface, rub the peel on the rim of the glass, then place in the drink.

It’s a fine concoction. Raise one in honor of the Czar of Noir, who has not only joined the exalted ranks of Cecil B. DeMille, Tyler Perry, and Guy Ritchie in getting his name in the title with this book, but who will also be receiving a Raven award from the Mystery Writers of America tonight in recognition of his film preservation work.