This is among the best of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series, which is saying quite a lot. Set in the mid-1970s, it finds Scudder divorced, working as an unlicensed P.I. in New York City and essentially living in the bars that dot the neighborhood around his small hotel room.
The book opens with the brazen robbery of an after-hours saloon that happens to be owned by some scary Irish brothers that no smart person would ever think to screw around with. Matt is present at the time of the robbery and the owners ask him to look into it, offering a $10,000.00 reward for info leading to the robbers. At virtually the same time, the wife of a casual barroom acquaintance, Tommy Tillary, is murdered. Tillary becomes a suspect and asks Matt to help clear him. If all that weren't bad enough, another of Scudder's friends is being blackmailed and wants Matt to help arrange the payoff.
As the book progresses, Scudder works on each of the three problems with varying degrees of commitment and interest. Each of the three cases is interesting in and of itself, but as always in these books, it's the setting and the characters, especially Scudder himself, that keep you coming back and that make you regret it every time you come to the last page. Lawrence Block has created in these novels a world and a cast unlike any other--for my money easily the best, the most vivid and most interesting of any in crime fiction. I've read this book at least three or four times by now, and I'll be anxiously waiting for it again the next time I make my way through this series.