Reviews: The Con Man and Killer’s Choice by Ed McBain

The Con Man is exactly what you’d expect after the three previous volumes: A series of crimes that may or may not be related, the detectives of the 87th fanning out to crack the cases, a look at how policework is done, and the 87th’s great characters.

The joy for the crime-minded […]

Review: The Pusher by Ed McBain

A patrolman stumbles across the body of a young Puerto Rican immigrant in the basement of a filthy tenement building. It’s set up to look like a suicide, but the scene is so poorly staged that it appears the killer wants it to be known that this was murder. Why?

After two good […]

Review: The Mugger by Ed McBain

The Mugger, the second of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, begins directly after the events of Cop Hater (although it’s in no way necessary to read Cop Hater first). Detective Steve Carella is away on his honeymoon, so McBain takes the opportunity to give us some quality time with some of the precinct’s other employees, notably rookie cop Bert Kling, who gets talked into an unauthorized murder investigation, and compact judo expert Hal Willis, who’s on the trail of the title villain, sometimes with Detective Eileen Burke (making her series debut).

No sophomore slump here, as The Mugger is in nearly every way an improvement on its predecessor. The mystery is better, and the characters are developing quite nicely. It’s also a bit darker, featuring a murdered teenager and vicious police brutality (which seems shockingly cavalierly treated).

[Minor spoiler below the fold]

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Review: Cop Hater by Ed McBain

The city in these pages is imaginary. The people, the places are all fictitious. Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.

Thus begins each entry in Ed McBain’s massively successful and influential 87th Precinct series. And while I felt it should be noted when looking at the first book in […]

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.)

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