Review: Downtown by Ed McBain

There’s nothing quite like picking up a book you’ve never heard of and know nothing about and discovering that you’ve stumbled across a classic. This was my experience with Ed McBain’s Downtown*.

A classic? Strong words, there, Trent. But I mean it. I just recently read The Hot Rock, which I loved and which is considered the classic comic crime novel. Downtown is nearly if not just as good (although very different).

Our protagonist is Michael Barnes, an orange-grower from Florida who is about to fly out of New York City on Christmas Eve after a meeting with his advertising agency when he gets hustled by a gorgeous woman and her fake police detective accomplice in an airport bar. His drivers license, credit cards, and money now gone, he goes downtown to report the crime to the police, getting his rental car stolen along the way. From there, he ends up on the lam accused of murder, running hither and thither meeting all sorts of strange people and ending up in all sorts of strange situations as he tries to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Tempering this craziness is the fact that Michael Barnes has some serious emotional baggage–he’s a cuckold and bitter about it, has issues with his mother, and was scarred by his combat experience in Vietnam (although he’s not an offensive psycho stereotype, thank God). These emotional scars are played upon masterfully by McBain, for dark humor or for grounding moments of pathos as appropriate, and they give Downtown a humanity that makes the whole farce unexpectedly powerful.

I don’t know why Downtown isn’t better known. Maybe Ed McBain just pumped out so many books that lots of his stuff falls through the cracks while readers get stuck trying to read the 87th Precinct and Matthew Hope novels in order. Maybe it’s because nobody made a movie out of it (although see below). Maybe, and this is a strong possibility, the style of humor doesn’t appeal to a broad enough audience.

Whatever the reason, Downtown deserves much better than obscurity. It’s clever, witty, touching, and terrific.

(That’s my capsule review. Below the fold is a tangent.)

Continue reading Review: Downtown by Ed McBain

Review: Richard Stark’s Parker: Book Two–The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke (II)

(Note: The timing on the release of Darwyn Cooke’s The Outfit was not good for me. Due to life, I did not have as much time as I needed to do a proper reading and write-up, but I wanted to get a review out before The Outfit hit the street. So I cranked […]

Sand: The man nobody walks on!

In Gun in Cheek, Bill Pronzini’s “affectionate guide to the ‘worst’ in mystery fiction” (which I looked at here), he writes the following:

One of the more interesting Parker imitations is a man also known only by his last name–Sand, the protagonist of a number of novels by Ennis Willie. An […]

News for week ending 2010-10-09

Louis XIV at Existential Ennui reviews Darwyn Cooke's The Outfit: # Book Glutton has a brief look at Butcher's Moon: # Limited edition, signed and numbered copies of Darwyn Cooke's The Outfit available at the NYC Comic Con 10/8-10/10: # Geoff Boucher at LA Times–Darwyn Cooke reloads with "The Outfit." […]

Review: Gun in Cheek by Bill Pronzini

Justin’s glance dropped to the gracefully formed cleft which separated breasts made as stout and round as summer melons. Then he appraised the contour of her hips and legs and felt a queerness coursing through his veins–for this was a woman!

–from One Man’s Crime by Lynton Wright Brent


Essential Darwyn Cooke interview on The Outfit (and other things)

When Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of The Hunter was released, the Comics Reporter landed the must-read interview with Darwyn Cooke on the subject. For The Outfit, that honor falls to Comics Alliance and this terrific interview by Tucker Coe Stone.

Some things mentioned:

If you’ve been following this project, you […]

Today’s the day! Darwyn Cooke’s The Outfit now available

The wait is over for Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of The Outfit, which hits stores today in the US (it’s been out for a week in the UK). So hurry on down to your local comic shop and pick up a copy.

My review is here.

Friend of the site Louis XIV of Existential […]