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More Little Things Mean a Lot: An Extract From a Conversation in Eight Million Ways to Die (1984) by Lawrence Block.

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I'm almost to the middle of the 25th anniversary edition of Lawrence Block's Eight Million Ways to Die, and an ex-New York City cop, the alcoholic main character, Mathew Scudder, is talking with an active New York City cop, Joe Durkin, about the unsolved chop-job murder of a beautiful, 25-year old prostitute from Wisconsin who was trying to stop hooking.

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Severed Head (2011), by emersonquinn at Flickr Commons

The conversation concerns the rampant murders more than 35 years ago in New York City and the impossibility of solving them. The active cop Joe Durkin, stationed at the Midtown North Station in Manhattan, is talking with the main character, retired cop Mathew Scudder:

"Half the job is knowing the odds. Working the cases where you got a chance. Letting the others flap in the breeze. You know the murder rate in this town?"

"I know it keeps getting higher."

"Tell me about it. It's up every year. All crimes are up every year. Except we're starting to get a statistical drop in some of the less serious ones because people aren't bothering to report them. Like my sister's burglary. You get mugged coming home and all he took was your money? Well sh*t, why make a federal case of it, right? Be grateful you're alive. Go home and say a prayer of thanks."

"With Kim Dakkinen?"

"Screw Kim Dakkinen," he said. "Some dumb little b*tch comes fifteen hundred miles to peddle her ass and give the money to a n-word pimp, who cares if somebody chopped her up? I mean why didn't she stay in f*cking Minnesota?"

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"Wisconsin."

"I meant Wisconsin. Most of 'em come from Minnesota."

"I know."

"The murder rate used to be around a thousand a year. Three a day in the five boroughs. That always seemed high."

"High enough."

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"It's just about double that now." He leaned forward. "But that's nothing, Matt. Most homicides are husband-wife things, or two friends drinking together and one of "em shoots the other and doesn't even remember it the next day. That rate never changes. It's the same as it always was. What's changed are stranger murders, where the killer and victim don't know each other. That's the rate that shows you how dangerous it is to live somewhere."

America in 2012 has become New York City in 1984. We are a country of stranger murders, and the rest of the world knows it. How could they not? They're the ones our own tell us are the strangers.


 

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 
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