A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block (Hard Case Crime (reprint), Aug. 2014)-I rarely read series books out of order, but with the movie coming up, and also the undeniable lure of that creepy trailer, I lost my internal fight and read A Walk Among the Tombstones over the weekend. I’ve read a few books by Lawrence Block in the past, and am well aware of his talent, but this is my first introduction to Scudder. It’s the 10h book in the series, but new readers shouldn’t have any trouble jumping in at this point, although I always recommend starting at the beginning, because you’ll miss out on inevitable character development, etc. That said, don’t be afraid to dig into this one, if only to read the book before you see the movie (boy, do I want to see the movie.)
Here’s the skinny: Matt Scudder is an ex-cop and unlicensed PI, although he sometimes does work for a larger investigation firm, therefore operating under their license. This is not one of those times. He gets a call from Peter Khoury, who knows him from AA, and is asked to help Peter’s brother, Kenan. Kenan Khoury’s wife has been kidnapped, but it’s no normal kidnapping, and for that matter, Kenan is not a normal client. First, the kidnapping: Kenan meets the kidnapper’s demands (sort of-there’s some haggling which comes back to haunt him), but they kill his wife anyway, leaving her in pieces in an abandoned car for him to find. About Kenan: he’s a drug trafficker that, for obvious reasons, doesn’t feel that he can go to the police. Luckily for him, Matt Scudder doesn’t really have a problem working for him, and it’s obvious that it’s not Scudder’s first rodeo with questionable clients. Scudder soon rounds up a few buddies from his cop days to help him dig for info, and he’s got a feeling that this isn’t the kidnapper’s first killing, and that kidnapping isn’t their real motive. It soon becomes obvious that the torture and killing of women is their real pleasure, and the kidnapping is a nifty way to get their hands on some cash while they indulge their dark agenda.
With the help of his police sources, a rather charming street kid named TJ, and a couple of fast talking hackers, Scudder makes progress, but the real break comes when the baddies snatch the 14 year old daughter of a Russian drug dealer. A Walk Among the Tombstones is chock full of snappy, and sometimes witty, dialogue and involves a very creepy pair of killers, but the real meat of this book comes from Scudder himself; a damaged man taking it one day at a time and who’s not afraid color outside of the law to get the bad guys. I’ve seen him called amoral, but I wouldn’t say that. In fact, Scudder seems to have a deep need to see justice done; he’s just willing to do some questionable things to get there. He’s human, and as dark as his journey to this point has undoubtedly gotten, there’s also an endearing desire for happiness, and he seems to have found it in his girlfriend, Elaine. She’s an intelligent, fierce delight, and the dialogue between the two of them is spectacular. She’s much more than an equal match for him-she’s a force of nature. Block is also very good at giving characters that may normally be slotted in the “bad guy” character column a big dose of humanity. It’s easy to dismiss drug traffickers as unsympathetic, but very hard to do so when Kenan pines for his dead wife who he adored and a father tearfully pleads with Scudder that he’ll give anything if he’ll just get his daughter back. It’s also refreshing to read a novel before cellphones were a thing, and footwork and old fashioned detective work is still on top. You’ll want to see these killers brought down, and you’ll want to see Scudder do it. This is fantastic stuff, and a must for fans of gritty, realistic suspense.