Straightforward, clean and classic, The Sins was the perfect book for a lazy afternoon in the sun. Decent characterization, a serviceable investigation and the seedy side of 1970s New York all contribute to a fast read.
The first book in a long-running series introduces Matthew Scudder, a 15 year veteran of NYPD who retired after an accidental shooting of a seven-year-old girl. That incident became a breaking point, an emotional trauma that is shared with the reader in bits and pieces. Now living in an emotion-free zone powered by booze and coffee, he works for ‘favors,’ where he investigates for people and they express appreciation in cash. The police force, alas, exists on a favor system as well, and undoubtedly set the stage for Scudder’s mentality now. As payment for a review of a beat cop’s report, he sets the rookie straight, disillusioning him about the job but setting the way for the rookie’s advancement.
The story begins at a favor interview: a woman is found brutally murdered, her roommate covered in blood and raving; shortly after, he hangs himself in jail. The woman’s stepfather is looking for closure and wants to learn more about her, even if it means digging up the unpleasant. The mystery wasn’t particularly surprising, but I give Block credit for creating interesting characters, particularly Scudder. I found his quiet wrestling with issues of good and evil a nice twist.
Aspects to the story feel dated, but less so than most. “Nymphomaniac” was banded about on one occasion by a character other than Scudder, and there is no more certain way to date a detective book than 70s psychology. However, although the dead woman has been going on dates for money, Scudder doesn’t judge her, and helps her stepfather understand the situation. Homosexuality also becomes an issue in the investigation, which Scudder investigates without judgement.
Overall, I enjoyed the pace, the narration and the attempt to wrestle with moral ambiguity. I also found it enjoyable to read a mystery that didn’t feel the need to venture into thriller territory or multiple murders. It’s kind of a popcorn level mystery book: easy, light, non-substantive. For me, a three and half star read, but good enough that I’ll be looking for the next in the series.