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.


Book Review – SEE THEM DIE (1960) by Ed McBain

SEE THEM DIE (1960) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1987, 160pp
First published in 1960
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 9780-330-25402-2
Blurb: Kill me if you can – that was Pepe Miranda’s challenge. Murderer, two-bit hero of the street gangs, he was holed up somewhere in the 87th Precinct, making the cops look like fools and cheered on by every neighbourhood punk. It was not a challenge Lieutenant Pete Byrnes and the detectives in the squad room could leave alone. Not in the sticky, July heat of the city with the gangs just waiting to explode into violence . . .
Comment: The thirteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series once more sees McBain trying out a new approach. McBain concentrates less on plot/detection and more on social comment, in this story of a Puerto Rican criminal under siege in his own community from the cops of the 87th Precinct. Alongside this McBain delves into issues of inter-gang warfare and the bravado of youth in the immigrant community alongside and the racial attitudes of the cops (juxtapositioned by the racist slob Andy Parker and the Puerto Rican Frankie Hernandez) and those who live in the community itself. As such the story unfolds in the style of a three-act play. The result is a patchy novel that only comes to life in its nail-biting final act.


Book Review – THE HECKLER (1960) by Ed McBain

THE HECKLER (1960) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp
First published in 1960 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 978-0-140-02393-0
Book CoverBlurb: Spring was intoxicating the city air, but the harassing anonymous telephone calls planting seeds of fear around town were no April Fool’s joke. Crank calls and crackpot threats reported to the 87th Precinct by a respected businessman were not exactly top priority for detectives Carella and Meyer — until a brutal homicide hits the papers. Connections are getting made fast and furious, and there’s a buzz in the air about the Deaf Man, a brilliant criminal mastermind. Now, the 87th Precinct is buying time to reveal the voice on the other end of the line — as the level of danger rises from a whisper to a scream….
Comment: The twelfth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series introduces us to the squad’s recurring nemesis, the Deaf Man. The plot is a convoluted one of distraction and heist planned out and delivered with the utmost attention to detail by the Deaf Man and his cohorts. The detectives of the 87th, are working on what they believe to be the distinct cases of a heckler threatening shop proprietors and a murder. The Deaf Man’s scheme appears to be foolproof as the police are dispatched across the precinct in the aftermath of a wave of bombings and arson distracting them from the gang’s real plans. The plot unfolds in customary McBain fashion showing our detectives to be both human and vulnerable. The dialogue sparkles as ever and the prose has the familiarity of a storyteller at the top of his game. The resolution relies on irony, happenstance and remains open-ended. Another strong entry in the series.

Book Review – GIVE THE BOYS A GREAT BIG HAND (1960) by Ed McBain

by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp (170pp)
First published in 1960 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 978-0-140-02310-7
Blurb: The mystery man wore black, and he was a real cut-up king. Why else was he leaving blood-red severed hands all over the city? Was he an everyday maniac with a meat cleaver, or did he have a special grudge against the 87th Precinct? Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes went along with the grudge theory because the black-cloaked killer didn’t leave any clues to go on – the grisly hands even had the fingertips sliced off. And how do you nail a murderer when you can’t identify or unearth most of his victims? That’s what the boys of the 87th Precinct have to do: find a killer before he carves up any more corpseless hands!
Comment: The eleventh of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series is an efficient and neatly plotted mystery, which finds McBain moving back to the series’ core procedural format after a couple of diversions. The detectives have to find the identity of a corpse from just a pair of severed hands. McBain takes us through the investigation via his trademark engaging prose and witty dialogue. Whilst the story does not veer from the formula that made the series so successful, it remains an engaging read in the hands of a master storyteller. McBain effectively builds the tension in the finale by intercutting scenes as two leads converge into one a climax that is both shocking and satisfying.

Book Review – KING’S RANSON (1959) by Ed McBain

KING’S RANSOM (1959) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp (172pp)
First published in 1959 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1959
ISBN: 978-0-140-02219-3
Blurb: Half a million dollars – or a boy’s life . . . But what if that boy isn’t your own son? And what if paying the ransom will ruin the biggest deal you ever made? What do you do then? Throw away your future or sacrifice someone else’s child? That was the dilemma facing wealthy Douglas King. Detective Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct can only keep trying to find the kidnappers and hope that Doug King will decide to give them the payoff. Because if he doesn’t, Carella will have a case of cold-blooded murder on his hands.
Comment: The tenth book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series is the strongest so far. McBain takes time to flesh out each of the key characters and this elevates the story beyond the procedural formula adopted up to this point, thereby widening the series’ scope. By presenting his central character, the driven and ambitious businessman Douglas King, with the dilemma he does, McBain allows himself to comment on themes of corporate greed and loyalty through three-dimensional characters. McBain’s strengths of plotting, characterisation and dialogue are again in full evidence here and this book marks the point where McBain began to hit his stride with the series. This was also the first series appearance of the obnoxious Detective Andy Parker.