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All The Flowers Are Dying by Lawrence Block: A Book Review
1. What is the novel, All The Flowers Are Dying?
2. How is the book put together?
3. What is the novel trying to do?
4. How does all of this relate to various individual tastes in literature?
First of all, I'm holding in my hands, a hardcover edition of the book, which is 288-pages in length, rather concise by today's standards. It is published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers; copyrighted for 2005 by Lawrence Block.
Now then, the book is an installment of Mr. Block's "Matthew Scudder" series. Scudder is a former policeman-turned-private investigator.
The book is not, strictly speaking, a suspense novel, in my opinion. As I always say, a suspense novel, is a book in which the hero must accomplish something by a certain time to prevent the sky from falling. In other words, the 'good guys' have to get something done within a certain time window to prevent 'all hell breaking loose,' and so forth.
The novel does involve a dramatic confrontation, at the end, between the novel's and series' hero, Matthew Scudder, and the villain, a serial killer, who, apparently, had been targeting Scudder and his wife. Nevertheless, for the sake of accuracy in the description of the structure of the book, I must say the plot was not constructed in this way.
Yes, of course, one could simply say something like: Matthew Scudder must track down the killer before he kills again!
But that wouldn't be accurate in any sense. The villain does kill several times before anyone has any inkling of whom he might be. And again, such a simplification does not honor the way Mr. Lawrence Block seems to have put the plot together.
Actually, in one sense, there is no such thing as the 'suspense' novel, because it is usually a pretty fair bet that the 'good guys' are going to win. But, that takes us off in another direction, so I'll drop it. Just know that this novel is NOT a suspense novel, in the way I have defined the term; so that if suspense novels, in the way I have defined the term, is what you're into, "All The Flowers Are Dying" does not happen to be what you are looking for.
This book is not a thriller, because the events comprising the plot of the novel, are not, in my opinion, presented with what I like to call momentous immediacy.
What do I mean by the term momentous immediacy?
I simply mean this: When we look a Dan Brown novel, say, (ex. 'The Da Vinci Code'), we are reading a thriller, in that everything that happens in the novel single-mindedly drives us to the big finish. There is a laser-like focus on the climax.
That is not what we're looking at with Mr. Block's novel. Indeed, from what I have read, I don't think he really writes thrillers. In All The Flowers Are Dying, there is the big finish, of course, but not everything that happens in the book is single-mindedly devoted to that end. In other words, Matthew Scudder and his crew are busy living their lives, working other cases, as a matter of fact, even as the great danger approaches them.
Is All The Flowers Are Dying a 'crime' novel, 'mystery,' both, or neither?
I always define a 'mystery' as a simple 'whodunit;' a story is present that has a gaping whole in it: the solution, the identity of the killer.
I always define a 'crime' novel as a story in which there is no mystery about 'whodunit.' We are given this information from the outset; and the story is not set up in such a way that those interested in opposing the protagonist (the criminal) are in doubt about his or her or their identity. Do you follow me? Does that make sense? The question is: Will the criminal (usually killer but not always) get away with it? Why did he do it? Why is he doing it (if he is committing an ongoing series of crimes)? How does he feel about what he has done or what he continues to do? Will he get away with his crime(s)?
In All The Flowers Are Dying, the 'crime' and 'mystery' elements briefly converge and overlap. In a sense, we always know who the villain-killer is. We see him in action quite directly. We are made to see him quite directly from the beginning. Now then, because of the fact that we meet the villain, in such a way, as to very clearly indicate that he likes to play roles, we understand that we are simulataneously seeing him and not seeing him.
Sorry to be so abstract but I don't want to give too much of the plot away. Sorry about this: And yet, there is never a time when we are, wholly, not seeing him, the villain. Therefore, from the perspective of us, the readers, the book is not a mystery. Furthermore, from the perspective of the other characters, they, similarly, experience a time stream in which they both see the killer and don't see him. (Hint: Remember, we're talking about 'serial' killers and their 'patterns,' and such like).
Then there comes a point when, for us, the identity of the villain-killer comes fully into view, as it is made clear to us, something of the full range of the identities he has taken on. It happens for us at about the same time as it does for the hero, policeman-turned-private investigator, Matthew Scudder. For instance, there comes a point in the story when Scudder has occasion to say something like (referring to the killer): Oh, I think I know that guy. He's a member of my A.A. group! Matthew Scudder is a recovering alcoholic.
What I'm trying to say is that there comes a point in the story where the 'crime' (in the way I have defined the term) aspect of the story peels off from the 'mystery' (again, in the way I have defined the term) aspect, to become a proper 'crime' novel in which the question becomes about the fate of the criminal (Will he get away it? and so forth).
As I said, in a sense, there is no such thing as a 'suspense' novel, especially when we are looking at an installment of a series with a beloved and lovable character driving it. The good guy is going to win. What such series really are, in my opinion, are 'character studies.' Don't you think so? How is the character changed by each adventure? What does he 'learn' from his experiences, and so forth? How does he 'grow,' and all that good stuff? Mind you, my irony is not directed at Mr. Block and his work, which I love, but at certain literary conventions. Never mind, its not important.
You could say that All The Flowers Are Dying, is another installment in the ongoing private detective/crime drama/character study, which is the Matthew Scudder series as a whole---which is any series as a whole.
I think that will do it. Enjoy the book, I certainly did.
Thank you for reading.