It’s not that often I delve into the noir-ish side of crime, though it’s not because I have anything particular against it — the whole class of casually drinking, smoking and screwing detectives with cynical attitudes don’t repel me, whether it be Brandstetter, Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Or, in this case, Matt Scudder. It comes down to the individual detective, and in that sense, Scudder probably comes out neck and neck with Brandstetter. He’s involved in a case that seems sordid, yet he avoids making obvious conclusions and follows the facts; he’s straight, but he ends up in gay bars, talking to gay people, etc, and yet Block doesn’t seem to need to overhype Scudder’s masculinity in compensation. And despite the cynicism, Scudder tithes to local churches, keeps an open mind about people, and doesn’t judge. There’s an honesty about him, too: he takes money, but he admits it, he knows when to take it, and there’s times he’d say no.
There are things about the whole treatment of gay people that don’t come off so well, but most of it seems to be a genuine attempt to let people do their own thing and not get stuck on judging what that is. Unless you’ve killed someone, of course.
In terms of the writing, it’s not Raymond Chandler: there’s no gems where Lawrence Block wrote something in a way no one else has. It’s clean and it works, without unnecessary verbiage or prevarication. Most of the clues are given to us, though there’s one point where the thinking process is based on proper detective work in old records and stuff, and that’s less easy to bring across to the reader in a way that’s at all interesting, so that aspect was a little smudged.
Overall, I actually really enjoyed this. There are some noir detectives I don’t want to spend a minute more with — Mike Hammer, for example — but Matt seems basically decent, and never too convinced that that’s the case.