Matt Scudder is finally leading a comfortable life. The crime rate's down and the stock market's up. Gentrification's prettying-up the old neighborhood. The New York streets don't look so mean anymore.
Then all hell breaks loose.
Scudder quickly discovers the spruced-up sidewalks are as mean as ever, dark and gritty and stained with blood. He's living in a world where the past is a minefield, the present is a war zone, and the future's an open question. It's a world where nothing is certain and nobody's safe, a random universe where no one's survival can be taken for granted. Not even his own.
A world where everybody dies.
The body count is indeed high in this latest Matt Scudder tale, which is also the best since A Walk Among the Tombstones (1993)--resonant, thoughtful, richly textured and capped by a slam-bang windup. At the center of the case is Matt's old buddy, Mick Ballou, the murderous and hard-drinking Irish mobster with a deeply philosophical streak who is one of Block's most enduring creations. Two of Mick's henchmen have been killed in what should have been a routine liquor hijacking. After Scudder helps Mick bury the bodies at the mobster's upstate farm, he finds he has been targeted himself. Two hoods try to rough him up on the street, then an old friend, Matt's sponsor at Alcoholics Anonymous, is gunned down in a restaurant after being mistaken for Matt. It soon becomes clear that someone from Ballou's past is aiming to destroy him, and Matt, caught in the crossfire, has to try to determine who's behind the mayhem. He does so in his usual ruminative way, working it out with wife Elaine, streetwise sidekick TJ and old cop comrades who are now, because of his friendship with Ballou, against him. In the end, Matt has to stand alone with Ballou to put a stop to the vendetta in a blaze of gunfire. Block's seamless weave of thought and action, and his matchless gift for dialogue that is true, funny and revealing, have seldom been on more effective display. The pages leading up to the climax have an almost Shakespearean feel for human resignation in the face of mortality.