Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Walk Among The Tombstones by N.Y. Times Best Selling Author, Lawrence Block--This Book-to-Movie Now in Theaters!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     "When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth." [2]

     The Grim Reaper, the personification of death, is usually depicted as a skeletal figure wearing a black cloak and hood. He carries a scythe and often is portrayed as riding a white (or pale) horse with skeletons (those whom he has slain) around him. Many times he is described as being one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

     Death, another common name assigned to The Grim Reaper, is symbolized many ways, in everything from skulls, poppy plants, and tombs, to tombstones and graveyards. Oftentimes, symbols of hope appear simultaneously with those of Death, or The Grim Reaper. In Lawrence Block's, A Walk Among The Tombstones, Ray Callander could easily be a stand in for The Grim Reaper, performing Death's grizzly activities. Death has yet, another AKA: Ray Callander. We will soon see Callander in Block's exciting Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Suspense novel, on the big screen. The book-to-movie comes to theaters on September 19, 2014.



     Book 10 of the Matthew Scudder Series, A Walk Among The Tombstones, finds Matthew Scudder, an ex-cop-turned-private investigator and a sober recovering alcoholic, working for some of the people he despises--drug dealers. How did he get roped into this one? Anti-hero, Matthew Scudder's conscience, won't let him walk away from the case. A case, he learns, where the wife of a Lebanese drug dealer, Kenan Khoury, was kidnapped, ransomed, and, when Kenan paid the ransom, his wife was returned to him--in pieces. 

     Scudder soon learns that two death dealers prey on those living outside of the law, and they use that fact to exact silence from their victims. The result is that occasionally a body turns up in a graveyard, but police aren't able to find much evidence or connect cases since no one knows that the killing was done by serial killers or that they are methodically killing women from drug dealers' families. 

     Matthew Scudder agrees to turn the killers over to Kenan Khoury to exact his vengeance on them. Even so, Scudder has his work cut out for him. In the beginning of the investigation very little evidence existed to give him a place to start. Then, there is the fact that the two killers, Ray and Walter, are systematic and disciplined, unlike so many other serial killers. 

     But it isn't long before Matthew is getting help he didn't expect. A team is formed: a young black teenage, street smart kid (TJ), a call-girl (Matthew's long-time girlfriend, Elaine), two teenage computer geeks (the Kong brothers), and colleagues from his days on the police force.  

      Everything heats up in the middle of the investigation when the fourteen-year-old daughter of a Russian drug dealer is kidnapped and a million dollar ransom is demanded. No one believes it will end well. 

     Even moving quickly to ransom the girl, everyone rea- lizes she may already be dead. Will the team be able to rescue the girl and get the killers? After prolonged negotiations, the a- rrangements are finalized. The money will be paid. But they will only know if they've succeeded, and saved the girl, after they've taken a walk among the tombstones of the cemetery. 

MY FAVORITE QUOTE:             
     Many good quotes exist in this suspenseful book, but I picked one, albeit a very short one, because it really exemplifies the way I think we should all live. Matthew Scudder is musing about the brother of Kenan Khoury--Peter Khoury. Matthew had seen Peter at a Tuesday meeting of AA and then he saw him at the current AA meeting. Thinking about Peter and one of AA's slogans, Matthew thinks this:
In the meantime he [Peter] was sober, He only had a day [being sober], but in a sense that's all you've ever got. (p. 204.)
      Obviously, Matt is talking about being sober, but in a larger sense, he is also talking about life. If you live in the present, you only have one day. You can't live in the past or future, so you only have today. I wrote about living one day at a time in two paragraphs, but Lawrence Block did it all in just one beautifully eloquent sentence.


     As I mentioned above, the movie comes to the big screen on September 19, 2014. This highly anticipated movie  stars Liam Neeson. IMDb is listing the movie in the Action/Crime/Mystery genres, and, also according to IMDb, the MPAA rating is R for its use of "strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity." OK. Let's take a quick look at the trailer:

     The similarities of the movie plot to Taken are obvious (Neesom rescuing a woman, uses a gun, threatens bad guys on the phone, etc.).  Also obvious, once you've seen the trailer, is this movie isn't cheesy, nor is Neesom saving anyone he knows. He is an unlicensed private eye working outside of the law. He knows the men he tracks will be killed by Khoury in vengeance for torturing and murdering his beloved wife. I've seen Taken, a power-packed action movie. Looking at the trailer, it appears the movie will NOT be a remake of Taken.

   Writing credits go to Scott Frank (screenplay) and Lawrence Block (book). Starring in the film will be: Liam Neeson as Matthew Scudder; Brian 'Astro' Bradly as TJ; David Harbour as villainous Ray Callander; Sebastian Roche as Yuri Landau; Marielle Heller as Marie Gotteskind; and Patrick McDade as the bar owner. Most surprising to me is that no where on IMDb's Cast List did I see Elaine, the Kong Brothers, or Kenan or Peter Khoury. I suppose they have been written out of the movie. Wow. I wonder how they are adapting the book to the movie media given major characters are no longer there. Hmmm. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. [9]

(1)     I love the title of this book, A Walk Among The Tombstones. Looking at the literal view, we have someone who takes a walk in a cemetery where tombstones act as monuments for the deceased. In the literal view, in this novel, we know that bodies have been dumped in the cemetery by the serial killers.  Also, the ransom exchange is arranged to occur in the cemetery.

(2)     The second way of looking at the title is metaphorically. Block layers the title, not only with symbols of death, but themes that he has skillfully woven in through the novel. For example, one theme, burying your past and walking forward in life, can be seen with Matthew Scudder. He left the police force and drinking behind and moved forward to sobriety and work as a P.I., from working inside the law to working outside the law. Here's another: Elaine, Matthew's long-time girlfriend, leaves prostitution behind to become a student "Art Historian."

After her murder, Kenan cremated his wife
and with her cremation, his own flames of
vengeance flared up to consume him. [10]
     It gets more serious, though, for Kenan Khoury after his wife has been killed--he is left with a profound desire for vengeance that he does not want to leave behind. Nor can Kenan bury what he's done in his life. He cannot move forward in life. His brother, Peter, attempting to recover from drug addiction, attends lots of recovery meetings. He seems stuck for a while, going back and forth between using and not using.

(3)     Another theme I like, connected to the title of the book, is that of burial. Funerary rites vary around the world; cremation, for example, is  more than an acceptable form since it symbolizes purification, sublimation and ascension. Kenan's wife is cremated after her murder and her defilement at the hands of her torturers, purified. Another character, ________ (who shall remain nameless), commits suicide by drowning. This, too, burial at sea (water), is a symbol of death, yes, but also of purification and rebirth. This character's sins, symbolically, have been washed away.

(4)     Also connected to the title of the book, is the epitaph. An epitaph usually includes a persons first and last name and their date of birth and death. Sometimes the person is praised, poems engraved, or pictures included. TJ and Matt have a unique perspective on grave markers:
[TJ] 'Cemetery's weird, man. I can see havin' a stone, tells who's underneath it, but some of 'em has these little houses an' all....Would you want somethin' like that?' [Matt] 'No.' [TJ] 'Me neither. Just a little stone, don't say nothin' on it but TJ.' [Matt] 'No dates? No full name?' [TJ] He shook his head. 'Just TJ,' he said. 'An' maybe my beeper number.' (264)
     For TJ anonymity on the streets meant safety. Matt tells Kenan, "One thing you learn on the street, you don't want to be too quick to tell your business to people...Or even your name." (124) But I guess TJ figures after he's dead, everyone can have his pager number--but no name! How ironically funny. (He was just so proud of getting that pager.) Most people want to be remembered, and that brings us to one last theme, here.

(5)     One huge hallmark of AA is anonymity. No names. And, at one point in the story Elaine and Matt discuss how many people they know...but don't know, relying on first names or monikers only, like TJ, Danny Boy, Kali, Mick, and the Kongs.  The two admit they really don't know that much about their friends, like last names, addresses, etc. Also, there is anonymity is the use of public pay phones (especially those with numbers removed to stop dope peddling). Ray Callendar even manages to get ID with a fake address so no one can really track him down. And the most gruesome anonymity of all, the dumping of bodies anonymously in the graveyard by night.

     I can't talk about every theme in the book because there are just too many. I've picked a few that don't give away too much of the book and that I hope are somewhat interesting to you. A few I didn't cover are relationships, murder and torture, violence, sublimation of urges, racial bias and slurs, drugs of choice, and the living walking among others who are metaphorically dead (spiritually, morally, or ethically dead).

     While I thought Lawrence Block's writing most excellent in many respects, in a few places, the book bogged down and became a bit ponderous. I realize that the book is one in which a detective is searching out clues and must beat the pavement to find those clues. Even so, it just bogged down a bit here and there. All-in-all, I would say that this is an excellent book for adult readers of this genre.

     By now, you should have been able to tell that this book contains scenes of extreme violence, mayhem and murder. It discusses rape, torture, and mutilation of bodies. It also discusses drugs, alcohol, and drug use, drug dealing, cursing, suicide, and prostitution. Sensitive and young readers should not read this book or this book review. All others, mature adults, who enjoy this genre, will enjoy Block's exciting novel. Even with all the dark themes, this book is not depressing.


     For all the above-listed reasons, I rate this book 4.0 stars out of 5. I very much enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the movie. Thank you for joining me this week, taking time to read this blog post and consider the book. Please join me again next week for another new book review.

Until next time...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon. [15]
...many happy pages of reading.

All my love to you.


[1] "A Walk Among The Tombstones." [by Lawrence Block] Retrieved 08-31-14.
[2] "Bible." [English Standard Version: Revelation (6:1-8)] Retrieved 09-16-14.
[3] "Reaper and Death Horse." [by AlmightyShadow] Retrieved 09-17-14.
[4] "Private Eye Logo." Retrieved 09-17-14.
[5] "Team Builders, Inc. Home." Retrieved 09-17-14.
[6] "Man Walking Among Tombstones at Night." Retrieved 09-17-14.
[7] "Rare AA 4 Year/Month One Day at a Time 'Sunshine' Bronze Medallion Token Chip K4." Retrieved 04-17-14.
[8] "A Walk Among The Tombstones Official Trailer HD." Retrieved 09-17-14.
[9] "How To Successfully Adapt A Book To A Screenplay." Retrieved 09-17-14.
[10] "Vengeance." Retrieved 09-18-14.
[11] "Moved To Heaven." Retrieved 09-18-14.
[12] "History From Headstones." historyfromheadstones. Retrieved 09-18-14.
[13] "Grunge Rubber Stamp with workd Anonymous..." Retrieved 09-18-14.
[14] "Dark Souls II Review." Retrieved 09-18-14.
[15] "Pictures From My Garden." Retrieved 09-18-14.