A Walk Among Tombstones by Lawrence Block

Sometimes it takes a book being turned into a movie to spur me into reading a writer’s work, or in this case, get back to it. With A Walk Among Tombstones, Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens are providing the impetus to return to the writing of Lawrence Block in anticipation of seeing the movie. I was introduced to Block back in 2011, when I read his most recent entry in the Matthew Scudder series entitled A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I loved the hard-boiled feel of the book and the intricacy of the detective work as that novel examined an early case in Scudder’s career. However, I didn’t get a sense of Scudder’s history. It also seemed that he spent an inordinate amount of time attending AA meetings and contemplating his life and sobriety. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by his character and had always planned to the earlier books.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff  follows Scudder as he’s first embracing his sobriety and AA. I remember wondering whether he would be less intense, even happier as he became more comfortable in his new life. Reading this novel both confirmed and disproved my thoughts on Scudder. Walk Among Tombstones begins with Scudder narrating the last hours in the life of Francine Koury, the wife of a modest heroin distributor. In the midst of buying groceries, she is abducted by two men who escort her into the back of a blue van and drive off with her. Scudder juxtaposes her movements and abduction against his own; he spends time with his girlfriend and contemplates a trip to Ireland to visit a wayward friend who is having problems returning to the country. His plans change when he receives a call from Kenan Koury and his brother Peter (whom Scudder knows from AA meetings) for help dealing with Francine’s abductors.

While Scudder had no love for drug dealers, neither does he have any qualms about tracking and handing over a pair of ruthless kidnappers to vigilante justice. And so the tale begins. A Walk Among Tombstones is a dark, gritty novel exploring a brutal and senseless crime, but I enjoyed reading it for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the character development and the portrayal of the interpersonal relationships- they strengthen what could easily have been a plot driven novel. While the number of AA meeting he attends hasn’t changed, Scudder is at a different place in his life, more balanced as he develops his relationship with Elaine, whose straightforward support and street smarts make her an engaging lover and confidante. He also deepens his relationship with TJ, a street kid with the smarts and connection to help Scudder track down the bad guys, while developing a firm rapport with Peter and Kenan.

I also found myself fascinated with being immersed in the grittiness of ‘80s New York. It’s almost like reading about another world. The subways were dangerous, cell phones had yet to make an appearance among the common man, computers weren’t wireless, and TJ’s big thrill comes from finally getting a beeper. I’m very curious to see how this translates in the movie, but Block masterfully conveys the New York of a bygone era and a complex investigator attempting to piece his life together in that world. Hollywood would be wise to stick to the main beats of this engaging and finely detailed crime novel.

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  1. I’ve read a number of Scudder novels, but not this one! I had no idea. I do love the series, but I admit I’m not great at following up when there is a new one. I also love Block’s series about the antiquities bookstore owner by day, cat burglar by night. So much fun.

    1. I’m not great at starting from the beginning, Sandy, and I probably only do a little better with keeping up once I’ve started a series. Especially in the mystery genre, since their are so many authors whose books I enjoy. Movie versions tend to help me along.

  2. I’ve read every one of the Scudder books (some twice) and absolutely loved them. My all time favorites: When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes and A Drop of the Hard Stuff. Tombstones is one of the better ones in the series – though they’re all good – and I am pleased to see that Nicole reviewed it. Lawrence Block’s MATT SCUDDER is one of my two all time favorite fiction characters, well mystery/thriller specifically, the other being James Lee Burke’s DAVE ROBICHEAUX. These two fiction characters are alive and well and living on Planet Earth in the pages of phenomenal books. If you haven’t read the Scudder or Robicheaux series, now would be a good time to start. You are in for a genuine treat. xoox

  3. I’ve never read any Block – but I will say, that his titles are annoyingly difficult to alphabetize quickly when you’re shelving them. Which is silly, but largely contributes to why I never read him… after 6+ years in a bookstore. 🙂