I was none too taken with the first in the Matthew Scudder series "The Sins of the Fathers". But then I picked this one up at an airport, thinking I'd try something from a bit later before giving up. I'm afraid I think I'll give up now.
The book is mildly engaging. But Block cannot really write at all well. He can't do character; he can't do dialogue and he can't do narrative rhythm. Of course that doesn't leave much.
Take character: his characters are generally given idiosyncratic habits, such as Scudder's of giving a portion of his earning to the church or his friend Skip's of stubbing out cigarette in drinks while at the same instant voicing facetious disapproval of so doing. This seems to be a clumsy efort to make these people distinctive but it doesn't work at all. They are intersubstitutable ciphers whose arbitrary and inadequately motivated idiosyncracies do not stop them from remaining dead on the page.
Thematically, this is a book about drunks, about people most of whose waking hours are spent sitting in bars sustained by whisky. But his characters don't really convince as drunks - they don't talk like drunks and they don't think like drunks - and the atmosphere of delinquent oblivion Block seeks to create is strikingly absent, perhaps, inter alia, because his prose is so lacking in in any kind of sensual conviction.
Suspense too is never delivered. Indeed the rather dull chapter 16, which tells the tale of the delivery of a payoff to recover some stolen account books could provide a textbook case of writing that is clearly intended to be gripping and full of suspense and isn't even faintly anything of the kind.
I'd been told Block was one of the very best American crime writers. If the sample I have read is at all representative, I hope that is wrong. If it's right, American crime writing is in some trouble.