This is the twelfth of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder novels, and while I enjoyed all of the previous ones, I found this one somewhat disappointing.
I have remarked before on how in longer-running series there seems to occur a shift in emphasis away from what the individual installments are ostensibly about and towards the continuing private lives of the protagonists and their friends. The Matthew Scudder series has been following that pattern, and not necessarily ot it’s detriment; A Long Line of Dead Men, howvever, goes farther with this than any of the previous novels in the series, and not just in the space it dedicates to Matthew Scudder, his almost-wife Elaine and various other associates he has accrued during the course of the preceeding novels.
Pretty much everything of any interest and importance that happens in this novel takes place in Scudder’s private sphere; and while there is a mystery plot, it feels tacked-on, shoddy and like something from a lame TV show rather than being part of the solid and realistic crime series this always used to be. Someone even comments inside the novel on how hair-raisingly improbable and melodramatic events are, and seeing how the general tone of the series does not exactly lend itself to metafictional frolics, this is a bad sign indeed. Even Scudder does not seem able to muster much enthusiasm for the case and appears much more interested in when he’ll be able to spend his next night with Mick Ballou than in solving the murders.
A Long Line of Dead Men is not a bad novel – Lawrence Block is much too adept a writer for that – but I do not think it lives up to the previous Matthew Scudder novels; while still quite enjoyable it is the weakest volume in the series so far.