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.

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All Day And A Night by Alafair Burke

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

Generally speaking, character likability isn’t all that  high on my list of priorities in enjoying, or even choosing a book to read. Numerous factors are considered ahead of that (setting, tone, atmosphere, subject matter, whether I think it’ll be a compelling read). However, there are some natural exceptions to those rules—romance for one. Have you ever read a romance novel where you didn’t like either of the lead characters? Doesn’t happen very often.

I would also hazard a guess that murder mysteries, detective stories and suspense novels, where the tensions and stakes are high, are another place where it doesn’t hurt to have a character with whom you are comfortable, understand, and can root for. Ellie Burke is one such character, and with her, readers can comfortably navigate the world of violence and criminality.

In All Day and A Night  (a.k.a. prison slang for life without parole) Ellie Hatcher and her partner JJ Rogan are tapped to head  up a “fresh look” team on a serial murder case which was believed to have been solved years ago. The duo isn’t happy about the assignment which is one that is usually reviled within department because investigating officers are principally tasked with questioning the police work of their colleagues. It’s one step away from participating in an internal affairs investigation. It’s not by accident that Ellie and her partner have been assigned this task; it comes at the  request of Ellie’s now live in boyfriend, Max Donovan, who is an ambitious lawyer working for an even more ambitious DA in an election year. The heat is on, and though  no one wants to question the former police work, it’s clear that some things were missed.

Burke writes intriguing mysteries and this one is no exception. I had my ideas about how it would all end but I wasn’t sure, and that is saying quite a bit in her favor. The character interactions and back-stories, strong female roles and complex mystery made for a clever and engaging read. I’ve read one of Burke’s stand-alones, but this was my first novel featuring Ellie Hatcher and I would love to catch up with the other four novels in the series. Barring that, I’ll definitely be picking up and following where the next Hatcher mystery leads.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

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