This is the first Matt Scudder novel, although it’s not the first one I’ve read. It’s quite good, especially for its time (1975).
Matt Scudder was a husband, father, an alcoholic, and a relatively honest NYPD detective. Then one day something terrible happened and he dropped out of his life, quitting his job and walking away from his family to live in a cheap hotel and drink all day. He makes his living as an unlicensed private investigator: he doesn’t fill out forms, or charge by the hour, or any of it. He does favors for “friends” and afterwards those friends give him “gifts.”
In this first novel in the series, one of Scudder’s cop buddies sends a client his way: a young prostitute has been murdered in her home by the young man she lived with. He was arrested in the street, screaming, covered in blood, with his dick hanging out. After a couple of days in jail, he hanged himself, closing the case for good.
But the girl’s step-father isn’t satisfied. Not that there’s any doubt in his mind about who killed her, but she walked away from college years before and went to New York. She didn’t keep in contact with her family. They had no idea what was happening to her.
Why had she walked away? Why had she become a prostitute? Why was she living with this young man?
Who was she?
And because he’s doing a favor, not working directly for a client, Scudder’s investigation becomes more wide-ranging in pretty much the way you’d expect.
It’s a fast-moving book, and it’s short, so it takes very little time to read it. I wish I’d started with this one so I could move through the series in order. Scudder eventually picks up a series of recurring characters and he joins AA.
But it’s appropriately bleak and tragic, something I’ve been looking for. Good stuff.