Eight Million Ways to Die

3 Mins read

Written by Lawrence Block, artwork by John K Snyder III — This hardback graphic novel version of Lawrence Block’s classic fifth Matt Scudder book is the perfect thing for crime fiction lovers to savour late in the evening, with your feet up and a glass of your favourite tipple to hand. But perhaps you should make that a non-alcoholic tipple, because the continuing motif throughout this 140-page adaptation is Scudder’s battle with the bottle, and his struggle to put one or two other demons to bed.

The story begins in New York City in 1982. A beautiful blonde prostitute approaches Scudder with an envelope of cash and a simple request. She wants the ex-cop, unlicensed investigator to have a word with her pimp, Chance. Kim Dakkinen has decided to quit the game but is worried that serious harm will come to her because of it. Once Scudder finds Chance, the conversation is easy enough. The pimp is surprisingly pliable and enlightened for his profession – an art collector, even – and he promises not to give Kim any problems.

But it’s a dark city of hard edges, crime awaits around every corner, and a day or so later Kim’s body is found slashed to pieces in a hotel room. Scudder is devastated and reaches out for the booze once again, but surprisingly he receives a summons from Chance. What on Earth is going on? Why does the most obvious suspect in the case want Scudder’s help? Is it just some ruse that the rich pimp wants Matt Scudder to find the real killer, or does Chance really have the best interest of his girls at heart? The cops are investigating but they’re all out of ideas.

Scudder gives Chance the benefit of the doubt, not least because he could use the money. Dirty money it may be, but Scudder still regrets splitting with his wife and has a kid to support. Solving a senseless killing might also gain him a little redemption for accidentally shooting a child before he left the force. Soon enough, more prostitutes are turning up dead and Scudder is talking to Chance’s girls, using his contacts and trying to shake down some leads.

The story is Grade-A 1980s hardboiled. Updating his Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe influences, Block’s main character and the setting are fun to look back on and enjoy via the graphic novel medium. Scudder is a cynic, but a complex one, giving in now and then to passion and anger – and the dead girls really matter to him. Diversity is very much on the crime fiction agenda today, but here you can see that even back in 82 Lawrence Block presented a multi-racial, multinational cast and you can’t make too many assumptions about any of the characters based on race, gender or sexuality. Sure, there’s no strong female character here, but the women in the story aren’t just dressing either.

The city itself feels like a living, breathing thing, too, an organism that these beautiful women, bar-dwelling Johns, hustlers, muggers, honest working cops and both Scudder and a deranged killer are all part of. It’s New York before the big clean-up, where each person will have their own way to live and their own way to die. Yet this dark behemoth will carry on devouring.

And the artwork reflects this depth. The heavy shading of street scenes, with chiaroscuro focal points. The cold, angular rendering of the brutal reality in the alleys and bars that Scudder scurries through is juxtaposed with the warm, blood-red swirls of his bad dreams and his drunken downfalls. For the 80s comics nerd, it’s a chance to go wild with nostaligia. Snyder’s style is unique but it also evokes the dense rending you’ll see in the comic artwork that was so popular during this period – Eastman and Laird, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Neal Adams and Bill Sienkiewicz for instance. It was in 86 and 87 that John K Snyder III emerged onto the indie comic scene so this book must have been fun to work on for him. It shows in the artwork.

Here at Crime Fiction Lover, we don’t think there’s quite enough appreciation for Lawrence Block and his Matt Scudder books. This graphic novel is a great touchpoint for you to rekindle your enjoyment of the author’s work, and a fantastic way to discover it if you’re not yet a believer. And, if you’re looking for a gift for the crime fiction lover in your life, we’re sure that if you buy them Eight Million Ways to Die, they’ll love you for it.

For a taste of the artwork, take a peek here. Also see our look at five of the best crime graphic novels.


CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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