I managed to score an advance copy of Lawrence Block’s A Drop of the Hard Stuff, coming in May from Mulholland Books. It’s the 17th in Block’s fine Matthew Scudder series, which has been idle since 2005.
There are two things Block does better than any other crime writer I know: New York City, specifically Manhattan, and Alcoholics Anonymous. Where other series PIs flirt with alcoholism, recovery and AA, Scudder is hip-deep in all three.
I’ve read all the Scudder books, but I went through Hard Stuff with professional interest. Why? My own protagonist, Conway Sax (Purgatory Chasm, Conway’s debut and mine, comes out in May from Minotaur), is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict whose milieu is AA.
It’s a tricky thing to write about for several reasons. Start with ubiquity: AA has been done to death in books, movies and TV series. It’s been done well and it’s been done poorly. but dear God has it been done.
I addressed this by nibbling around the edges of AA. My characters ride to meetings in cars, brew coffee, and set up chairs – but I’ve yet to use an actual meeting as a scene. This works for Conway because the real action takes place in what’s called the Meeting After the Meeting, in which he and other hardcore group members plot revenge and punishment for those who take advantage of drunks.
Block, on the other hand, is brave as hell in this regard; he plunges right into meeting after meeting, nailing the wide variety of vibes you find in AA. (In particular, I admire his description of some meetings as snoozefests that his characters escape during the coffee break. AA ain’t all heart-rending, attention-grabbing soliloquies.)
Indeed, you could describe Hard Stuff as an AA Procedural. The presumed criminal, the crime, and the lion’s share of the characters