Book Review – SHOTGUN (1968) by Ed McBain

SHOTGUN (1968) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1971, 158pp
First published in 1968
© Ed McBain, 1968
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2702-6
Blurb: A psycho has butchered a nice young couple and he’s loose somewhere in the 87th Precinct. He has a name, an address and an identity. Walter Damascus is a third-rate lothario who likes his women well off, well built and dead, along with their husbands. Sooner or later he will surface.
Comment: The 23rd book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series sees the series return to a more serious tone with a particularly nasty double murder opening the book. McBain weaves in many other elements, including tieing up loose ends from an earlier book (He Who Hestitates), so much so that he frequently leaves the main plot to do so. The investigation, therefore, progresses procedurally without fully capturing our attention. Intermingled are domestic asides – Carella’s family celebrating Halloween and Kling’s fragile relationship with Cindy Forrest – and a third murder, seemingly unrelated to the main plot. As ever, McBain brings the story threads together in a clever finale, but as a whole, the book feels a little piecemeal.

Book Review – FUZZ (1968) by Ed McBain

FUZZ (1968) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 205pp
First published in 1968
© Ed McBain, 1968
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2463-9
Blurb: The detectives of the 87th Precinct are confronted with a call – clearly a crank call – that threatens the life of the city’s parks commissioner unless a ransom of $5,000 is paid. The deadline soon passes and the parks commissioner is shot in the head as he leaves a rock concert. Soon, another anonymous warning follows and the deputy mayor is blown up in his Cadillac. The next target is the young, charismatic Kennedy-esque mayor who is on the hit list of what can only be called a serial assassin. It is up to the hardworking detectives of the 87th Precinct to find the shrewd murderer before he can strike again.
Comment: Ed McBain returns with the 22nd book in his 87th Precinct series following a two-year break. The book is a mix of detection, thrills and comedy, with the latter adding a delicious flavour to the mix. McBain is not afraid to show the fallibilities of his detective heroes and here they are often made to look inept by their master-criminal nemesis the Deaf Man, returning after his appearance in book number 12, The Heckler (1960). Three separate cases here dovetail through happenstance into a chaotic finale. For once the solution is not achieved through procedural detective work, it is merely resolved through blind luck. The Deaf Man’s scheme is clever and is only undone through his own vanity and bad timing. The dialogue is amongst the best in the series, notably in the sidebars: the station being decorated apple green by two painters who trade verbal barbs with the detectives; Meyer looking to sue an author who has used his name for the title of his book. The comedy is broadest in a stakeout in Grover park with Kling and Meyer dressed as nuns; Willis is a sleeping bag with female detective Eileen Burke; Genero disguised as a blind man with his guide dog who ends up shooting his own leg. That McBain juggles these elements, both serious and comic, so well is a testament to his skills. The result is one of the strongest books in the series, which would be adapted for the big screen four years later.

Book Review – EIGHTY MILLION EYES (1966) by Ed McBain

by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 172pp
First published in 1966
© Ed McBain, 1966
“The Dear Hunter” © Pyramid Publications, 1965
“Eighty Million Eyes” © Popular Publications, 1965
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2462-4
Blurb: When top TV comic Stan Gifford died there were plenty of witnesses – 40 million viewers, plus the studio crew and audience. Detectives Meyer and Carella had never had it so good, but when pretty Cindy Forrest undressed for bed, there was no one to watch – except her attacker.
Comment: The 21st book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series sees McBain interweaving two separate plotlines – a traditional whodunnit mystery and a psychological thriller. The nature of the book betrays the origins of these plotlines as two separate shorter pieces published in magazines the previous year. The mystery plot, written with a light touch, concerns the poisoning of a TV comic and detectives Carella and Meyer hunt down leads through the questioning of suspects and the forensic evidence. The thriller plot has a darker and more sinister tone with a dangerous stalker menacing Cindy Forrest (who appeared as the daughter of one of the victims in Ten Plus One) and Kling assigned to protect her. Both cases work to simultaneous and satisfying conclusions. The dialogue is breezy and the writing confident, but the stitched-together nature of the stories is evident as there is no linking theme or crossover between the cases. That said this remains an excellent example of McBain’s versatility, even within the same book.

Book Review – DOLL (1965) by Ed McBain

DOLL (1965) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 158pp
First published in 1965
© Ed McBain, 1965
ISBN: 978-0-3300-24823-5
Blurb: She was a living doll–until she was slashed to death. Detective Steve Carella wants Bert Kling on the case, even though Kling is making enemies of everyone. Then finally even Carella has had it with Kling, and suddenly the detective is missing and suspected dead. The men from the 87th Precinct go full tilt to find the truth. But they really need to find is a little doll–the little doll with all the answers.
Comment: The 20th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series finds the author returning to his trademark approach, but with a new twist. Here, he weaves elements of psychological terror into the procedural narrative, with Carella captured and being forced into drug addiction and becoming a sexual plaything by a psychotic woman. The doll of the title is both the key to the mystery and a metaphor for Carella’s incarceration. The tension builds as Kling and Meyer race against time to locate their colleague, whilst investigating the murder of a model. The book can be seen as marking the beginning of a new chapter in the series with McBain pushing further at the boundaries of sensationalism – a theme he would often return to in later books. Whilst the move was bold it somehow seems to slightly cheapen the material and, as a result, the book is not wholly successful.

Book Review – HE WHO HESITATES (1965) by Ed McBain

HE WHO HESITATES (1965) ***½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 157pp
First published in 1965
© Ed McBain, 1965
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2593-7
Blurb: Outside the 87th Precinct a stranger stands in the falling snow. A big man with big hands, Roger hesitates: He knows he should go in and tell a policeman about what happened the night before; about Molly, the homely girl he met in a bar and brought back to his rented room. But then again… The snow falls on the city. Pushers, pimps, and working stiffs come and go. Roger tries to make up his mind. And every second that he hesitates takes him one step farther away from the 87th Precinct station, as another second ticks away on an innocent woman’s life…
Comment: The 19th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is an interesting diversion for the series after the stale Axe. Here McBain tackles the psychological ambiguities inherent in Roger Broome, a salesman who lives with his mother and struggles to control his homicidal impulses. Although written in the third person, the story is told solely from Roger’s point of view and we only see the detectives through his eyes as he contemplates turning himself in. As a change of direction, albeit temporary, this novel maintains interest throughout and some tension is built when Roger finds Amelia, who he falls in love with. The will-he or won’t-he kill her conundrum gives the story its impetus as Roger restrains his impulses and pushes himself to own up to the murder of Molly, a girl he met in a bar. McBain would return to his procedural approach for his next book, Doll.

Book Review – AXE (1964) by Ed McBain

AXE (1964) **½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1975, 141pp
First published in 1964
© Ed McBain, 1964
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4410-8
Blurb: Eighty-six-year-old George Lasser was the superintendent of a building in the 87th Precinct until just recently. Unfortunately, his tenure ended in the building’s basement with a sharp, heavy blade of an axe in his head…There are no witnesses, no suspects, and no clues. The wife and son? They’re both a little off-kilter, but they have alibis. Just when Carella and Hawes are about to put the case on the shelf, the killer strikes again. Now the detectives are hot on the trail of a man crazy enough to murder with an axe.
Comment: The 18th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is a little lacklustre after the excellent Ten Plus One. McBain seems short on ideas and the mystery elements fail to engage. By now the author was slowing his series output from three novels a year to one and he lost some momentum as a result. This particular mystery is wrapped up very quickly after following the usual dead-end leads – indeed the book is remarkably short, even for McBain at 141 pages. This being McBain, though, there is still much to enjoy in the dialogue and familiar characters, but ultimately this is a rare example of a master of his craft off his game.

Book Review – TEN PLUS ONE (1963) by Ed McBain

TEN PLUS ONE (1963) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1975, 192pp
First published in 1963
© Ed McBain, 1963
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4116-8
Blurb: When Anthony Forrest walked out of the office building, the only thoughts on his mind were of an impending birthday and a meeting with his wife for dinner. And a deadly bullet saw to it that they were the last thoughts on his mind. The problem for Detectives Steve Carella and Meyer Meyer of the 87th Precinct is that Forrest isn’t alone. An anonymous sniper is unofficially holding the city hostage, frustrating the police as one by one the denizens of Isola drop like flies. With fear gripping the citizenry and the pressure on the 87th mounting, finding a killer whose victims are random is the greatest challenge the detectives have ever faced—and the deadliest game the city has ever known.
Comment: The seventeenth book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is amongst his best work to date. There is confidence evident in the writing that confirms McBain was in total command of his craft. The dialogue is the sharpest and wittiest to date – Monoghan and Monroe at the first crime scene are priceless – and all the characters are well-drawn and feel real. There is also a broadening of the scope as other precincts are brought into the story and the book is also the longest to date. The plot is a familiar one with a group of estranged people linked by a historic event who find themselves being killed one by one. As the suspect list narrows and the net closes on the killer, the tension builds. McBain paces the book perfectly to produce a gem.

Book Review – LIKE LOVE (1962) by Ed McBain

LIKE LOVE (1962) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Mandarin, 1992, 176pp
First published in 1962
© Ed McBain, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-7493-0898-8
Blurb: A young girl jumps to her death. A salesman gets blown apart. Two semi-naked bodies are found dead on a bed with all the hallmarks of a love pact. Spring really was here for the 87th Precinct. Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes thought the double suicide stank of homicide, but they just couldn’t get a break. Fortunately, Hawes has something else going on in his life at the moment – something like love.
Comment: The sixteenth book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series sees the squad investigating a seeming suicide, but suspecting murder. This represents a new angle for McBain as the book opens with another suicide, a girl jilted in love who Carella fails to talk down from a high-rise window ledge. The main plot revolves around the seeming pact between secret lovers. McBain carries the story forward through his regular cast of detectives, with Kling still grieving from the events of Lady, Lady, I Dit It! For the most part, the mystery remains intriguing and it seems it will go cold. The case is eventually solved, but, unusually for McBain, the motivation behind the killing feels extremely weak here. As a result, despite the author’s trademark dialogue, this is less satisfying than the majority of the series to date.

Book Review – THE EMPTY HOURS (1962) by Ed McBain

THE EMPTY HOURS (1962) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1981, 192pp
First published in 1962
© Ed McBain, 1962
ISBN: 9780-330-26279-3
Blurb: THE EMPTY HOURSShe was young, wealthy – and dead. Strangled to death in a slum apartment. All they had to go on was her name and some cancelled cheques. As Steve Carella said, ‘Those cheques are the diary of her life. We’ll find the answer there.’ But how was he to know that they would reveal something much stranger than murder? J: On Passover, the rabbi bled to death. Someone had brutally stabbed him and painted a J on the synagogue wall. Everyone knew who the killer was – it had to be Finch, the Jew-hater. Or did it…? STORM: The snow was pure white except where Cotton Hawes stared down at the bright red pool of blood spreading away from the dead girl’s body. Hawes was supposed to be on a skiing holiday, but he couldn’t just stand by and watch the local cops make a mess of the case. He had to catch the ski-slope slayer before he killed again.
Comment: The fifteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books collected three novellas written between 1960 and 1962. During this period a TV series had been developed by Hubbell Robinson Productions for NBC, which ran for 30 episodes from 25 September 1961 to 30 April 1962 (a pilot had been broadcast as part of the Kraft Television Theatre series on 25 June 1958). The series adapted some of McBain’s novels, as well as his novella The Empty Hours (originally published in Ed McBain’s Mystery Book), and also contained new material from the author as well as other writers.  J and Storm, the two other stories used here, however, were not adapted. Copyright lists The Empty Hours and Storm as 1960 and J as 1961. The Empty Hours and J follow the traditional 87th Precinct procedural approach to solving the crime within the city. Storm re-locates to a ski resort, where Detective Cotton Hawes is holidaying with his girlfriend, but otherwise, this remains familiar in structure. The mysteries are short, running to between 56 and 66 pages, and therefore not too convoluted, but still manage to generate a twist or two. They remain entertaining, if less demanding, reads.

Book Review – LADY, LADY, I DID IT! (1961) by Ed McBain

LADY, LADY, I DID IT! (1961) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1980, 160pp
First published in 1961
© Ed McBain, 1961
ISBN: 9780-330-26095-4
Blurb: The first thing Detectives Steve Carella and Bert Kling saw was four bodies soaked in blood. Then Kling realized that one of those crumpled on the bookshop floor was Claire Townsend, his fiancee! And that’s when the bookstore massacre stopped being just another murder case to the boys of the 87th Precinct. For Bert Kling was one of their own, and no one could get away with blasting a policeman’s girl.
Comment: The fourteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels brings the act of murder close to home when Kling’s fiancee Claire Townsend, a recurring character since The Mugger (the second in the series), is killed with three others in a bookstore shooting. McBain handles the detective’s emotional state well as he juggles grief with anger. The mystery elements also work well here and keep the reader guessing through to the book’s conclusion. McBain’s style is in evidence with witty and naturalistic dialogue, punctuated with metaphoric descriptions of city life. One of the best of the early books.