Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series has been around since 1976 and is quite famous, so it is more than a bit embarrassing that I only discovered them in 2010. Block is a very prolific writer, and still manages not to sacrifice quality to quantity, at least not for the Matthew Scudder novels who through all of the ten volumes I have read so far have been among the best in crime fiction around.
A Walk Among the Tombstones, like the other novels in the series, has a noir-ish feel to it: it has a prevailing feeling of melancholy, it has the lone wolf crime-investigating protagonist, it has violence and lots of shady low-life characters, it has a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards vigilante justice and in general heaps of moral ambiguity. But there are also a lot of elements you would not necessarily expect in any hard-boiled crime novel: the protagonist is a recovering alcoholic and in a steady relationships and the treatment of those two subjects covers a significant part of the novel, and it appears (at least to the layman like me) quite solid on investigative procedures – one of the things I particularly liked about A Walk Among the Tombstones is the way Scudder gradually (mostly with persistence and a good portion of luck) pieces together the identy of the main criminal from what at first appear no clues at all.
The only thing that grated on me was the character of TJ, a teenage street kid who is just too good to ring true: he turns out to be some nascent super-sleuth and all but solves the case for Scudder – the character just strained credibility beyond the breaking point for me. On the other hand, the rest of the cast is without exception well-drawn, particularly impressive were the rich drug merchant who hires Scudder and who struggles to escape the moral turpitude his profession has gradually sunk him in and the main criminal who is both spine-chillingly evil and despicably pathetic. Block also manages to keep up the reader’s interest in the ongoing development of his main protagonist Scudder even as he seems on the road of putting his inner demons to rest and come to terms with himself and his life.