Block opens the book with an “English lullaby” that is pretty much guaranteed to cause sleeplessness in any child listening. It might scare them quiet, however: “baby, baby if he hears you/As he gallops past the house/Limb from limb at once he’ll tear you/Just as a pussy tears a mouse.” A gruesome and fitting way to start off one of Scudder‘s more horrific cases.
A Walk is little more to the 3.5 area on the scudder scale of awesomeness. Scudder is back in usual form, but with some of the character subtlety missing–it feel a little like–deep breath –Block might be phoning it in. It has a similar feel to the Spenser mysteries, ten or fifteen books in. Plug in the general ingredients: love interest + colorful informants + dubious client. Season with interaction with NYC’s boys in blue, library newspapers, cursory sprinkles with Matt’s friends, Mikey, Danny Boy and sponsor Jim, add a few AA meetings, and voila! Baked mystery. Frost with vengeance story and you are ready to serve.
I know, I know. I’m going to be punished for saying this. I think Block’s strength in prior books was the sweet blend of characterization with gritty mystery. Opening with an imagined flashback to the victim’s last day seems a cheap emotional trick. This time around, it’s a little less focus on Scudder. TJ, the street kid from Times Square area, plays more of a role, and honestly, for me he was one of the bright spots of the books. It makes me a little uncomfortable, however, because it just misses being the funny/resourceful black man hip sidekick. Block keeps it from going quite that far, partly through Scudder’s own ability to mock himself. Scenes with TJ and Elaine are where my favorite bits of dialogue show up. The hacker kids were amusing, but appear dated. Reading dialogue that mentions “Jolt” soda brought back a strange kind of nostalgia.
“I’m stunned,” I said. “I didn’t know you could talk like that.”
“What, you mean talk straight? ‘Course I can. Just because I street don’t mean I be ignorant. They two different languages, man, and you talkin’ to a cat’s bilingual.”
Where Block seems to have concentrated his subtle awesomeness is in the characterization of his client(s), a drug moving middleman and his alcoholic-in-recovery brother. While one scene with him seemed particularly awkward to me–the scene where they discuss the morality of selling drugs versus arms–I suppose it does fit within the context of the dealer questioning life choices of the awful event that happened. Still, it’s a little pat and though the dealer is reasonably educated, he doesn’t go the route of “all business is based on exploitation,” a rejoinder that seems rather obvious to anyone in New York.
I was charmed by a group of drug dealers acting like a band of merry men, but I wonder… really? I was aware I was believing this section of the plot because I wanted to, not because Block was writing a story that seemed remotely plausible. The final disposition scene was a hard one to stomach. Necessary? I’m not sure. I also felt like some of Scudder’s personal story was tacked on at the end, rather than growing organically through the book.
Still, it was gripping, a fun fast read, and several bits made me smile. It was a diverting read. Three and a half stars.