Matthew Scudder

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Matthew Scudder
First appearanceThe Sins of the Fathers
Last appearanceA Drop of the Hard Stuff
Created byLawrence Block
Portrayed byJeff Bridges
Liam Neeson
OccupationPrivate detective

Matthew (Matt) Scudder is a fictional character, the most famous and enduring creation of American crime writer Lawrence Block.

Fictional biography[edit]

Scudder debuted in 1976's The Sins of the Fathers as an alcoholic ex-cop who had recently quit the NYPD and left his family after accidentally causing the death of a young girl. Living in a rent-controlled hotel room in Hell's Kitchen, he earns his living as an unlicensed private investigator—or, as he puts it, "doing favors for friends."[1] The series' overarching theme is mortality: the early entries are filled with scenes of Scudder alone in churches, compulsively tithing his small income, lighting candles for whatever deceased figures happen to be on his mind—and always for the girl whose life he had inadvertently taken.

The fifth entry, 1982's Eight Million Ways to Die not only featured a more intricate plot than the earlier novels, but is the first to notably move the character forward: the novel concludes with Scudder introducing himself at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.[2] Block planned to end the series there, but a promise he'd made to supply an editor friend with an original short story resulted in "By the Dawn's Early Light," a story set during Scudder's drinking days in the 1970s (Abe Beame is mentioned as New York mayor) but told from the perspective of a recovering addict. The story was well-received, winning a Shamus Award for best short story of 1985. Block would go on to expand on that success with 1986's When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, which not only resurrected the series,[3] but proved a favorite of both the author and his fans.

From then on, Scudder's circumstances rarely remain the same for long: 1990's A Ticket to the Boneyard reunites him with Elaine Mardell, a hooker from his days on the force, and concludes with him staging the suicide of a man who had threatened their lives[4]—a decision he recalls in a number of subsequent volumes. 1991's A Dance at the Slaughterhouse introduces TJ, a young Times Square hustler who becomes Scudder's protégé and closest ally.[5] 1992's A Walk Among the Tombstones sees him struggling with Elaine's role as a prostitute (as well as a pair of violent kidnappers),[6] while 1994's A Long Line of Dead Men ends with the two marrying.[7]

While Scudder never takes another drink (coming closest in Boneyard), alcohol continues to play a large role in his life: he continues to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (which constitute a central setting of the later novels), and his best friend, Mick Ballou, is a career criminal and saloonkeeper with whom he often spends long nights. He also has a standing Sunday night dinner with his sponsor, Jim Faber, who eventually becomes a surrogate father figure.

Scudder has relaxed somewhat in recent entries, and is now far more apt to enjoy an evening at Lincoln Center with Elaine than he is to take on a job. 2005's All the Flowers Are Dying, the sixteenth title in the series, seemed to have been written as a possible final chapter.[8] However, a new Scudder book, titled A Drop of the Hard Stuff,—a second "flashback" novel—was published in 2011 and again set in the 1970s but during Scudder's first year of sobriety.[9] The novella A Time to Scatter Stones is scheduled for a 2018 publication, featuring an aging Scudder helping friends of his wife Elaine who want to escape sex work.[10]

List of Matthew Scudder novels[edit]

  • The Sins of the Fathers (1976)
  • In the Midst of Death (1976) (#3 in the series)
  • Time to Murder and Create (1977) (#2 in the series)
  • A Stab in the Dark (1981)
  • Eight Million Ways to Die (1982)
  • When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1986)
  • Out on the Cutting Edge (1989)
  • A Ticket to the Boneyard (1990)
  • A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (1991)
  • A Walk Among the Tombstones (1992)
  • The Devil Knows You're Dead (1993)
  • A Long Line of Dead Men (1994)
  • Even the Wicked (1997)
  • Everybody Dies (1998)
  • Hope to Die (2001)
  • All the Flowers Are Dying (2005)
  • A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011)
  • The Night and the Music (2011) (short story anthology)

In other media[edit]

  • The character of Matthew Scudder was portrayed by Jeff Bridges in 8 Million Ways to Die, in which the setting was moved to Southern California and characterized Scudder as a sheriff's deputy. The movie alters his backstory; in the film, he kills an adult drug dealer in front of the dealer's family rather than a young girl on a darkened street. Reviews were poor and the film was a box office bomb.
  • Matthew is played by Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014), a performance that was well received by Block.[11] The movie also used Scudder's original backstory as depicted in the novels. This film was a modest financial success and earned better reviews than the previous Scudder film.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Block, Lawrence (1976). The Sins of the Fathers. New York City: HarperCollins.
  2. ^ Block, Lawrence (1982). Eight Million Ways to Die. New York City: HarperCollins.
  3. ^ Block, Lawrence (1986). When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. New York City: HarperCollins.
  4. ^ Block, Lawrence (1990). A Ticket to the Boneyard. New York City: HarperCollins.
  5. ^ Block, Lawrence (1991). A Dance at the Slaughterhouse. New York City: HarperCollins.
  6. ^ Block, Lawrence (1992). A Walk Among the Tombstones. New York City: HarperCollins.
  7. ^ Block, Lawrence (1994). A Long Line of Dead Men. New York City: HarperCollins.
  8. ^ Block, Lawrence (2005). All the Flowers Are Dying. New York City: HarperCollins.
  9. ^ Block, Lawrence (2011). A Drop of the Hard Stuff. New York City: HarperCollins.
  10. ^ A Time to Scatter Stones (2018), Subterranean Press
  11. ^ Block, Lawrence. (Twitter) "Saw #AWalkAmongTheTombstones today. Liam Neeson brilliant as Scudder, Scott Frank script and direction tops. Set for September release. 18 October 2013. Tweet.