A man is gunned down and the person deemed responsible is caught red handed at the scene of the crime. While the accused’s brother realizes that the evidence is damning, he cannot imagine his brother committing such a horrible act. He remembered meeting a man who identified himself as a detective during an AA meeting and reaches out for his help. The man in question is Matt Scudder and he agrees to take the case even though he has his doubts he’ll make a difference.
As with all the books in Block’s Scudder series, one of the most important characters is New York City itself. Whether he’s writing about dingy bars like the infamous Grogen’s or the folks that live in the city’s high-end condos, Block finds away to let the Big Apple play a central role in all of Matt’s cases. While talking with a homeless man about the shooting, the man tells Scudder that even though he shares the same neighborhood as the deceased, they couldn't be further apart. "Man, how would they know him? He didn’t live here."
"Of course he did," I said. "You can see his building from here."
He made a show of following my finger as I pointed at the top floors of Holtzmann’s apartment building. "Right," he said. "That’s where he lived, up on the fortieth floor."
The twenty-eighth, I thought.
"That’s another country up there," he said. "Man commuted from the fortieth floor over there to some other fortieth floor where his office is at. Where you and me are is the street. Man like that, the street’s just a place he’s got to pass through twice a day, getting from one fortieth floor to another."
The Devil Knows You’re Dead is seemingly about Matt wandering through different worlds without ever leaving New York City. However, I suppose that’s life in and of itself. No one carries the exact same experiences that make up a life and because of this, everyone seemingly exists within a different world. With Scudder being a detective, he finds himself drifting in and out of the lives of others, trying to see the world from their eyes while absorbing as much as possible.
Of course while the crime plays an important part in this novel, it’s what Matt experiences in the course of the investigation that gives the story its legs. Whether he’s exposing his sometimes sidekick TJ to questionable situations, comforting an old friend who has received devastating news or figuring out where his relationship with his girlfriend Elaine stands, The Devil Knows You’re Dead is a very important novel for the character of Matt Scudder.