The first thing you want to get straight about the new thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones is that although the movie poster shows the above-the-title Liam Neeson looking all grizzled and badass while toting a gun, this is no Taken sequel. By us, that’s good news. This movie, set mostly in New York’s gritty Hell’s Kitchen, is based on one of Lawrence Block’s best in his long-running series of page turning novels featuring a character named Matthew Scudder, a PI without a license who takes on the scuzzier clients few others will.

This time, it’s a drug trafficker (Dan Stevens, radically transformed from Downtown Abbey) who gets double-crossed when he pays the ransom for his kidnapped wife’s safe return, only for her to get slaughtered anyway. In a movie that takes its sweet time and has lots of good, juicy dialogue, Neeson proves himself a perfect fit to play Scudder, a tough, dogged, apparently unsentimental cuss with a gift for gab, a mean right hook, and an aversion to violence and technology.

This smart, lean, tough and, yeah, talky flick has been very shrewdly and knowingly directed/adapted by Scott Frank (who wrote The Wolverine), who knows the noir conventions — rain, melancholy, tough, doomed characters, paranoid plotting. He struts them without fetishizing them. A sequel as good or better than A Walk Among the Tombstones would be anything but painful. So long as Neeson’s confined to action movie jail, better that for him than another Taken or Taken clone. ***