Review: Eight Million Ways To Die by Lawrence Block

The Matt Scudder series is now in full swing by the time Eight Million Ways To Die was released and the book proceeded to win the 1983 Shamus Award for Best Hardcover PI Novel.

The series is typically hardboiled featuring a protagonist who struggles along in New York City as a barely functioning alcoholic. He battles his own demons and all of the baggage that goes with it while also putting himself in danger for others.

Book Details

Title: Eight Million Ways To Die
Author: Lawrence Block
Pages: 319
Published Date: 1982
Publisher: Arbor House
Series Details: 5th book in the Matt Scudder series

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Publisher's Synopsis

Nobody knows better than Matthew Scudder how far down a person can sink in this city. A young prostitute named Kim knew it also—and she wanted out. Maybe Kim didn’t deserve the life fate had dealt her. She surely didn’t deserve her death. The alcoholic ex-cop turned p.i. was supposed to protect her, but someone slashed her to ribbons on a crumbling New York City waterfront pier. Now finding Kim’s killer will be Scudder’s penance. But there are lethal secrets hiding in the slain hooker’s past that are far dirtier than her trade. And there are many ways of dying in this cruel and dangerous town—some quick and brutal … and some agonizingly slow.

From the Dustjacket

Scudder is back. Battling the bottle one day at a time. Next to staying sober, staying alive seems easy.

But it never is. Not for the prostitute who wanted out and got her beautiful self slashed to ribbons. Not for a pimp named Chance who is betting his life that a broken-down ex-cop can find her murderer. And not for Matthew Scudder - just trying to stay alive in a city that knows nothing better than how to die...

Other Reviews

Andrew Diamond

Most of the action involves Scudder doing old-fashioned detective work, what Scudder calls “goyakod”: Get off your ass and knock on doors. We then follow the detective through a number of encounters with cops, pimps, prostitutes, artists, witnesses, and drinking buddies in three of New York’s five boroughs.

The book is heavy on dialog, which is one of Block’s strong points as a writer. He doesn’t need to spend much time on backstory to develop rich characters. He reveals a person’s perspectives, attitudes, and temperament through their speech… - Read Full Review

Black Guys Do Read

That's it. If I never read another Lawrence Block novel (I shudder at the thought), this book on it's own solidifies in my mind that Block is one of the best crime novelists out there.  But this is so much more than just a "detective novel." It's a vividly written character study of the struggle to overcome alcoholism… - Read Full Review

Dead End Follies

The novel picks up a short while after the magnificent A STAB IN THE DARK and Scudder's still struggling with the idea that he's now a self-aware alcoholic, drifting in and out of meetings, unable to speak. A young woman named Kim Dakkinen approaches him while he's having dinner at Armstrong's (Scudder's a creature of habit, he's always having dinner at Armstrong's) in order to request his services… - Read Full Review

Curled Up

Block does immerse you in the seedy atmosphere of the New York of 1983, though. His imagery is stark, and he constantly has Scudder reading the newspaper, pulling out headlines and news stories about how certain innocent people were killed, and commenting on how these will quickly get relegated to the back pages as something even more monstrous hits the front page. This atmosphere weighs Scudder (and the reader) down, but at least the reader can put the book down if it gets too oppressive. What can Scudder do? - Read Full Review


Ex-New York policeman Matthew Scudder is not a formally licensed private investigator; he says you could call what he does “hustling for a buck…. I do favors for friends.” As this novel opens, he is about to take on a favor for a friend of a friend… - Read Full Review

Men Reading Books

Pay attention boys and girls. I’ve come to learn that Lawrence Block has the rep as one of the few modern day noir authors that has successfully edged out from under the shadow of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. The is one of 18 (!) Matthew Scudder novels. Not that I should know all the modern day noir authors, but how did Block fly under my radar? - Read Full Review

Book Reviews For Evermore

A book about the mystery of a dead hooker becomes a book about Matt Scudder taking one day at a time, trying to save himself from alcohol. The prose was dry and matter-of-fact; the words of a police report detailing his movements and contacts. And yet the way they were arranged, their anti-drama sensibility, packed an emotional punch… - Read Full Review

Tipping My Fedora

This fine private eye novel is first and foremost a powerful character study, depicting the slow recovery of an alcoholic but it also provides the requisite crime thrills too. It was the fifth in the Matthew Scudder series of New York mysteries and something of a breakthrough for the author… - Read Full Review

Cannonball Read

Block is really good at making Scudder and his other characters feel fully realized. There’s not a lot of Woe this city! Woe it’s darkness! And these sweet angels who become whores! Certainly, there’s the garden variety misogyny of the male characters but Scudder is no avenging angel, as he makes it clear several times. He takes the case to prevent himself from going on drinking binges… - Read Full Review

GoodReads Reviews

At the time of writing there are 336 reviews posted to the GoodReads website for an average of 4.1/5 stars. You can read these reviews by visiting the GoodReads website.

Other Shamus Best PI Novel nominees - 1983