The Big Bad City (87th Precinct Series #49)

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The first thing you need to know about this city is that it is big. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never seen it. The next thing you need to know is that it's dangerous. Never mind the reassuring bulletins from the mayor's office; just watch the first ten minutes of the eleven o'clock news and you'll learn exactly what the people of this city are capable of doing to other people in this city. This week's city tabloids depict the face of a pretty, dead girl who lay sprawled near a park bench not ...
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The Big Bad City (87th Precinct Series #49)

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Overview

The first thing you need to know about this city is that it is big. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never seen it. The next thing you need to know is that it's dangerous. Never mind the reassuring bulletins from the mayor's office; just watch the first ten minutes of the eleven o'clock news and you'll learn exactly what the people of this city are capable of doing to other people in this city. This week's city tabloids depict the face of a pretty, dead girl who lay sprawled near a park bench not seven blocks from the 87th precinct house, while the late night news reports on the latest exploits of The Cookie Boy, a professional thief who leaves a box of chocolate chip cookies behind after a score. Behind the scenes, detectives Carella and Brown soon discover that this is not your average dead girl, but one with an unusual past. As they piece together her secrets, detectives Meyer and Kling search Isola's pawnshops for items stolen by The Cookie Boy. While the detectives are investigating their cases, one of them is being stalked by the man who killed his father.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
I've spent the last half hour trying to think of any other series of detective novels that have stayed as vital, inventive, and fresh as Ed McBain's Tales of the 87th Precinct.

I can't think of one that even comes close.

McBain seems to have two types of readers: the ardent fan who automatically buys every 87th for the pure pleasure he knows it will render; and the ardent writer who automatically buys every 87th for the pure pleasure he knows it will render — and for all that it will teach him as a storyteller.

Everybody from Stephen King to Tony Hillerman has acknowledged learning from McBain. As I've said before, McBain sets writing problems for himself that make most of us cower — and solves them all in great high style and with cheery abandon.

What is just as remarkable is that virtually every 87th has a different story engine. He's given us locked rooms, Sherlockian puzzles, dark and driven Simenonlike character studies, hostage drama (the entire 87th held hostage, in fact), black comedies, and almost merry murder tales whenever the Deaf Man hits McBain's beloved Isola.

At hand now we have the 48th 87th, The Big Bad City, and it provides all the same kicks, frenzy, shocks, comedy, and urban despair we not only expect but demand from the very best 87ths.

The story tracks are these: A lovely young nun is murdered. But what's this? A few years back she wasn't a nun at all. She was a high-living rock star. Curiouser and curiouser. Then there's the Cookie Boy, a surly lad so named for the cookies he leaves behind whenever he violates thelaw.There is, concurrent with both these story lines, all the great cop talk at the precinct, the personal preoccupations of the detectives themselves, the sardonic McBain take on urban exasperation in all its noisy and sullen splendor, and even some scenes in which our man Carella feels the hot, murderous breath of his past on the back of his neck.

In other words, another page-turning, nonstop 87th one would have to put among the best of them all. A few notes: While the humor is sturdy and witty as ever, one senses that McBain holds out less hope for our urban problems. At least in this book, there's a cynicism that can't be mitigated by laughter. The Big Bad City is exactly that. The violence hurts, too. In earlier 87ths, McBain dealt more sparingly with violence, not so much in the amount of space he gave it, but in the way he presented it. Here, it isn't book violence — it's much closer to the real thing: brief, sloppy, ugly, and profoundly frightening. If anything, this enhances the reality of the book and forces us to look at it as a problem all around us.

While there are certainly some 87ths I like better than others, I've never read an 87th I didn't enjoy. McBain is the master. That he has been able to continuously keep his plotting unique and ingenious, his characters fascinating, and his famous literary voice (which includes the ultimate no-no, speaking directly to the reader) all at peak momentum since 1958 — well, as I said at the beginning, there's nobody else in the history of crime fiction who's even come close.

Ed Gorman

Ed Gorman's latest novels include Daughter of Darkness, Harlot's Moon, andBlack River Falls, the latter of which "proves Gorman's mastery of the pure suspense novel," says Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. ABC-TV has optioned the novel as a movie. Gorman is also the editor of Mystery Scene Magazine, which Stephen King calls "indispensable" for mystery readers.

Deirdre Donahue
While the plot moves crisply along to a satisfying conclusion, what makes McBain a master is the way he brings characters alive with a few deft details.
USA Today
Ben Greenman
Big Bad City [is] a worthy addition to the franchise.
Time Out New York
Chicago Tribune
No one mixes drama, humor, and humanity as convincingly as McBain, who remains the master of the police procedural.
People Magazine
He is by far the best at what he does. Case closed.
Marilyn Stasio
When it comes to the voices of this city, McBain is the man with the golden ear.
The New York Times Book Review
VOYA - Joanna Morrison
The Big Bad City is the forty-ninth title in this police procedural series set in the fictitious city of Isola, McBain's take on New York City. It is as solid, gritty, and compulsively readable as the earlier books. The atmosphere at the Isola Police Department is already tense when a knife fight begins in a holding cell as Detective Steve Carella and his partner, Artie Brown, bring in nine teenage street basketball players, all suspects in the murder of a tenth player. Detectives Meyer Meyer and Kling pursue their investigation into the identity of the burglar the press has named the "Cookie Boy" (the thief leaves a batch of home-baked chocolate chip cookies at each break-in). It is August, sizzling on the streets and steamy in the department, which is suffering its annual air conditioning breakdown. And then Carella and Brown are handed a homicide to end the perfect day when the body of a murdered woman, later discovered to be a nun, has been found in Grover Park. All of these threads are expertly woven together with yet another story, which only the reader knows about: the man who killed Carella's father becomes convinced that he must also kill Carella, or risk being killed by Carella in retribution. All of the 87th Precinct novels, including this one, are good stand-alone reads. McBain manages to convey the grit, sorrow, excitement, and frustration of the day-to-day workings of a big-city police force with a modicum of profanity and overt violence. These make the perfect choice for older teen readers with a taste for police procedurals. But be warned: teens will probably ask for all the titles in the series. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12 and adults).
Library Journal
McBain is back with another 87th Precinct novel, this time concerning the murder of a young nun with a shocking past as a rock singer.
Kirkus Reviews
Looks like more overtime for the detectives of the 87th Precinct. Only a few blocks from the station house, a nun lies strangled in a city park-and not just any nun, but one who shelled out $3,000 for breast augmentation only a few years ago. As Steve Carella and Artie Brown chase sister Mary Vincent's killer through the corridors of her past, another case blows up for Meyer Meyer and Bert Kling when the burglar the papers call The Cookie Boy (because he leaves a dozen home-baked chocolate-chip-cookies at each crime scene as a thank-you) runs into a scene that ends in a double homicide. Meantime, Carella himself, all unaware, is being stalked by the street punk who killed the his father, beat the rap, and now worries that Carella will always be watching over his shoulder unless she pops a cap in him first. As you'd expect from a place as crime-ridden as the Eight-Seven, there's a little something for everybody. The case of the murdered nun turns into the sort of sober, expert, if not exactly dazzling investigation that McBain (Nocturne) could turn out in his sleep. The Cookie Boy caper, by contrast, sparkles like a Fourth of July skyrocket, then fizzles. And the plot against Carella will still have you sweating, though not really guessing, as you turn the last page. How spoiled has McBain gotten his fans? It's all too easy to forget that this mid-grade adventure for the 87th, his 48th, continues to set the gold standard for the genre he invented. . .
From the Publisher
People Ed McBain is, by far, the best at what he does. Case closed.

Publishers Weekly McBain is so good he ought to be arrested.

Robert B. Parker It's hard to think of anyone better at what he does. In fact, it's impossible.

Boston Herald Classic McBain — taut with trenchant dialogue....In The Big Bad City, McBain proves he can pack punches in both the physical and emotional arenas.

Seattle Times-Post Intelligencer As good as it gets...compulsively readable.

New York Newsday Full of noir touches and snappy dialogue.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Vintage stuff. The dialogue is sharp, the plotting accomplished, and the prose bears the McBain stamp uncluttered, unpretentious, ironic.

Omaha WorkHerald (NE) [A] juicy mystery...McBain...lives up to his daunting reputation....The 87th Precinct is always an exciting place to visit.

Syracuse Herald-American (NY) If you're looking for a sure thing, pick this one up.

Winston-Salem Journal (NC) You wouldn't want to live there, but you will enjoy visiting The Big Bad City.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671025694
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Series: 87th Precinct Series, #49
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 4.00 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ed McBain, a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's coveted Grand Master Award, was also the first American to receive the Diamond Dagger, the British Crime Writers Association's highest award. His books have sold more than one hundred million copies, ranging from the more than fifty titles in the 87th Precinct series (including the Edgar Award–nominated Money, Money, Money) to the bestselling novels written under his own name, Evan Hunter—including The Blackboard Jungle (now in a fiftieth anniversary edition from Pocket Books) and Criminal Conversation. Fiddlers, his final 87th Precinct novel, was recently published in hardcover. Writing as both Ed McBain and Evan Hunter, he broke new ground with Candyland, a novel in two parts. He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. He died in 2005.

Visit EdMcBain.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The detectives hadn't even noticed the two men were aquainted. One of the two men was in the holding cell because he'd inconsiderately shot a little Korean grocer who'd resisted his attempts to empty the store's cash register. The other one was just being led into the cell. He'd been caught running from the scene of a liquor store holdup on Culver and Twelfth.
Aside from their occupations, the two men had nothing in common. One was white, the other was black. One was tall, the other was short. One had blue eyes, the other had brown eyes. One had the body of a weight lifter, possibly because he'd spent two years upstate on a prior felony. The one being led into the cell was somewhat plump. Sometimes, the plump ones were the ones to watch.
"Inside, let's move it," Andy Parker said and nudged him into the cell. Parker would later tell anyone who'd listen that he'd automatically figured the arresting blues had frisked the perp at the scene. "How was I to know he had a knife tucked into his crack?" he would ask the air.
In this instance, "crack" was not a controlled substance. Detective Parker was referring to the wedge between the man's ample buttocks, from which hiding place he had drawn a sling-blade knife the instant he spotted the body builder slouching and sulking in the far corner of the cage. What Parker did the minute he saw the plump little magician pull a knife out of his ass was slam the cell door shut and turn the key. At that very moment, Steve Carella and Artie Brown were together leading nine handcuffed basketball players into the squadroom. Both detectives smelled trouble at once.
The trouble was not that any policeman was in danger from the chubby little knife-wielding man in the cage. But the body builder was in police custody, and presumably under police protection as well, and every cop in that room conjured up visions of monumental lawsuits against the city for allowing a black man — black, no less — to be carved up while in a locked cell — locked, no less — with a fat white assassin who kept slashing the air with the knife and repeating over and over again, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"
Carella fired a shot at the ceiling.
"A minute before I was about to," Parker would later claim.
"You!" Carella yelled, sprinting toward the cage.
"Don't get any ideas," Brown warned the nine basketball players, who, although they were not lawyers, were already spouting learned Supreme Court decisions on false arrest and civil rights and such. Just in case one of them decided to drag the rest of his handcuffed buddies after him into the corridor, Brown drew his own gun and stood massively and menacingly between the players and the slatted wooden railing that separated the squadroom from the hallway outside.
"Oh, yeah?" the knifer in the cage said again, and slashed the air. The body builder kept backing away, hands circling the air in front of him. He had seen a few knife-wielders in his time, this dude, and he was waiting for the next gunshot from outside the cage, hoping the cops would help distract this crazy fat bastard who kept coming at him with the knife and yelling "Oh, yeah?" as if he was supposed to know what it meant. "Oh, yeah?" the corpulent little shit said again and again came at him.
"You hear me?" Carella shouted from just outside the cage now. "Throw that knife down! Now!"
"Juke him, man!" one of the basketball players shouted.
"Oh, yeah?" the fat man yelled, and lunged again, and this time drew blood.
The body builder yanked back his right hand as if a searing line of fire had scorched the palm, which in fact was exactly what the knife slash had felt like. His face went ashen when he turned his palm up and saw the deep cut spurting from pinkie to thumb. By then, the knifer, smelling blood, smelling fear, was closing in for the kill.
Parker, standing outside the cage with his gun in his hand, Carella standing alongside him with his own gun in his hand, had to decide in the next ten seconds whether they would be justified within the guidelines to drop the man in his tracks. They were both certain that a man pulling a knife while in police custody was reason enough for them to have drawn their weapons and shouted a warning. They both shouted warnings again, "Drop the knife!" from Carella, "Freeze!" from Parker, but the fat little man was neither freezing nor dropping the knife.
He simply kept moving closer and closer to the black body builder whose palm was steadily and alarmingly gushing blood, the knife swinging in the air ahead of him as he advanced, muttering, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"
"You crazy sumbitch, what's wrong with you?" the black man yelled, but the knifer kept coming on like a tank in the streets, the knife swinging, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"
"Steve?" Parker asked.
"Drop him," Carella said, and fired the first shot, hitting the knifer in the right thigh, collapsing him to his knees. Parker fired an instant later, taking the man in the right forearm, causing him to release his grip on the knife. As it clattered to the cell floor, the black man lunged for it.
"Don't," Carella said very softly.

The reason there were only nine basketball players in the squadroom — rather than the customary ten, five to a team — was that the forward on one of the teams had been shot while running downcourt for a basket. Presumably, one of the remaining nine players had fired the shot, since this had been a practice game without spectators, on a deserted playground court, on a sizzling Friday evening in August.
The oppressive heat notwithstanding, the pair of blues riding Adam Four knew the sound of a gunshot when they heard one. Two, in fact. In rapid succession. Bang, bang, like in the comics. They rolled up outside the cyclone fence in time to stop nine youths from dispersing fast, as was the usual case in this neighborhood whenever the music of gunfire filled the air.
The kids ranged in age from seventeen to twenty-four, twenty-five, the blues guessed, all of them wearing T-shirts and what one of the Adam Four cops described as "droopy shorts," which meant they hung down below the knees. The white team was wearing white T-shirts. The blue team was wearing blue T-shirts. The kid lying on the ground with two bullet holes in his chest was — or had been — a member of the white team, but his T-shirt was now stained a bright red.
The Adam Four cops found a .32 Smith & Wesson revolver in the weeds lining the dilapidated court. None of the nine knew anything at all about the gun or how Jabez Courtney happened to have got himself shot with it. All of them — presumably including the one who'd shot young Jabez — complained that they were being rounded up and herded to the cop shop simply because they were black, the O.J. legacy.
Now, at ten minutes to eight, Carella and Brown started doing their paperwork. In this city, the tempo in August slowed down to what Lieutenant Byrnes had once described as "summertime," not quite the equivalent of "ragtime," a slow-motion rhythm that leisurely waltzed the relieving team into the sometimes frantic pace of police work. There were three eight-hour shifts in any working day. First came the day shift, from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon. Next came the night shift, from four to midnight. Lastly, and least desirably, came the morning shift, from midnight to eight A.M. Usually, the teams were relieved at a quarter to the hour, but not during the month of August. In August, a good third of the squad was on vacation, and many of the detectives were pulling overtime working double shifts. Which perhaps explained why Carella and Brown, who had both clocked in at a quarter to eight this morning, were still here more than twelve hours later.
At this hour, there was a sort of languid tranquility to the squadroom. Despite the clamor of the nine ballplayers and their arriving attorneys, all armed to the teeth with arguments pertaining to mass and indiscriminate roundups of suspects, all prepared to summon the spectres of the Holocaust and the World War II Japanese-American concentration camps...
Despite the arrival of a paramedic team, all urgency and haste in earnest imitation of the actors on ER, rushing the bleeding body builder onto a stretcher and down the iron-runged steps to the waiting ambulance even though the patient kept protesting he could walk, damn it, wasn't nothin wrong with his legs...
Despite the arrival of a second team of paramedics, no less skilled in TV emulation than the first, who briskly and efficiently lifted the plump little former knifer onto another stretcher, bleeding from forearm and thigh and shouting to his benefactors that the man he'd stabbed had stolen his wife from him, an accusation dismissed by one of the paramedics with the consolation, "Cool it, amigo," though the knifer wasn't Hispanic...
Despite the arrival of two detectives from Internal Affairs who wanted to know what the hell had happened up here, how come a man in custody had been wounded by another man in custody, and how come sidearms had been drawn and fired, and all that bullshit, which Parker and Carella — and even Brown, who'd innocently been riding herd on the nine ballplayers — had to address before they could call it a day...
Despite the arrival of a man and his helper from what was euphemistically called the police department's Maintenance and Repair Division, here to fix the building's decrepit air-conditioning system, which of course was malfunctioning on a day with a high of ninety-two Fahrenheit, thirty-three Celsius...
Despite what to a disinterested observer might have appeared merely excessive motion and commotion, but which to the detectives coming and going was simply the usual ambience of the place in which they worked, give or take a few warm bodies...
Despite all this, there was a sort of familiar serenity.
As Carella and Parker and Brown reeled off guideline chapter and verse to the two shooflies eager to earn points with the Mayor's office by exposing yet more use of excessive force by yet another trio of brutal police officers...
As Carella and Brown together typed up their Detective Division report in triplicate on the nine ballplayers still protesting innocence in separate interrogations although almost certainly one of them had been the shooter and Jabez Courtney nonetheless lay stone-cold dead on a stainless-steel table at the St. Mary Boniface Mortuary...
As Parker kept complaining vociferously, first to the shooflies, and next to his fellow detectives, that the goddamn blues in Adam Four should have frisked the fat little bastard before cuffing him and bringing him up here for interrogation...
As Meyer and Kling came in from the field where they'd been interrogating a pawnbroker about a burglar they'd nicknamed The Cookie Boy, real life imitating art once again in that every cheap thief in every crime novel, movie, or television show was colorfully nicknamed by either newspersons or cops, fiction copying reality, the fake then feeding the actual in endless cyclical rotation...
"Leaves a platter of chocolate chip cookies just inside the front door," Meyer told Brown.
"Yeah?" Brown said, unimpressed.
"Better than shitting in the vic's shoes," Parker said.
"Which lots of them do," Kling agreed.
"You missed all the fun up here," Carella said.
"Looks like you're still having fun," Meyer said cheerfully.
As telephones rang, and voices overlapped and intertwined, Carella became aware of the summer sounds of August filtering up through the screened and open windows of the squadroom. There was a stickball game in progress under the glow of the side-street lampposts. On Grover Avenue, he could hear the clopping of horses drawing carriages into the park. Suddenly, there was the liquid trickle of a girl's laughter. He did not know how long ago he'd read the story, nor could he calculate how many times it had been brought to mind on how many separate summer days. But hearing the girl's lilting laughter, he thought again of Irwin Shaw's girls in their flimsy summer frocks, and smiled knowingly. Yellow. The laughing girl somewhere on the street below would be wearing a yellow dress.
Still smiling, he went to the wooden In-Out board — admittedly an old-fashioned way of tracking in this day and age of E-mail and computer technology, but still serviceable and accessible at a glance — and was about to move his hanging name tag from the In column to the Out column because finally, at ten minutes to nine on a long hot summer's day — thirteen hours after he'd moved the tag in the opposite direction — he was ready to go home.
The door to Lieutenant Byrnes's office opened.
"Steve? Artie?" he called. "Glad I caught you."

The dead girl lay sprawled in front of a bench in Grover Park, not seven blocks from the station house, on a gravel footpath only yards off Grover Avenue. She was wearing a white blouse and pale blue slacks, white socks and scuffed Reeboks. Flies were already buzzing around her. Not a sign of blood anywhere, but flies were already sipping at her wide-open eyes. Didn't need a medical examiner to tell them she'd been strangled. The bruise marks on her throat corroborated their immediate surmise.
"Touch anything?" Carella asked.
"No, sir!" one of the blues answered, sounding offended.
"This just the way you found her?" Brown asked.
He was thinking he didn't see a handbag anywhere around. Carella was thinking the same thing. The two men stood side by side in the dim light cast by a lamppost some five feet from the bench on the winding gravel path. Brown was the color of his name, six feet two inches tall and built like a cargo ship. Carella was a white man standing an even six feet tall and weighing a hundred and eighty-five in a good week. Summertime, with all the junk food, he usually shot up to a hundred-ninety, two hundred at the outside. The men had been working out of the Eight-Seven for a long time, partnered together more often than not. They could almost read each other's minds.
The assistant medical examiner arrived some five minutes later, complaining about summertime traffic, greeting the detectives, whom he'd met before at other crime scenes, and then getting to work while the blues stretched their yellow tapes and kept the forming crowd back. Nothing the residents of this city liked better than a good sidewalk show, especially in the summertime. Brown asked the blues how they'd come upon the body. The younger of the two uniformed cops said a female pedestrian had flagged their car and told them a woman was lying on the park path here, either sick or dead or something.
"Did you detain her?" Brown asked.
"Sure did, sir. She's standing right over there."
"Did you talk to her?" Carella asked.
"Few questions, is all."
"Did she see anyone?"
"No, sir. Just walkin through the park, came upon the vic, sir."
Carella and Brown glanced over toward where a woman was standing under the light of the lamppost.
"What's her name?" Carella asked.
"Susan...uh...just a second, it's an Italian name," he said, and took out his notebook. Anything ending in a vowel always threw them. Carella waited. "Androtti," the officer said. "That's a double t."
"Thanks," Carella said, and looked over at the woman again. She seemed to be in her late forties or thereabouts, a tall, thin woman with her arms folded across her bosom, hugging herself as if trying to retain body warmth, though the temperature still hovered in the low eighties. The detectives walked over to her.
"Miss Androtti?" Carella said.
"Yes?"
There was a stunned look on her face. It was not a pretty face to begin with, but the shock of having stumbled across a corpse had robbed it of all expression. They had seen this look before. They did not think Susan Androtti would sleep well tonight.
"We have to ask you some questions, ma'am, we're sorry," Carella said.
"That's okay," she said.
Her voice was low, toneless.
"Can you tell us what time you found the body, ma'am?"
"It must've been eight o'clock or so," she said. "It was so hot in the apartment, I came down for a walk."
"Here in the park," Brown said.
"Yes."
"Saw her lying there on the path, is that it?"
"Yes. I didn't know what it was at first. I thought it was...forgive me, I thought it was a bundle of clothes or something. Then I realized it was a woman."
"What'd you do then?"
"I guess I screamed."
"Uh-huh."
"And ran out of the park, looking for a call box. A police call box. When I saw the patrol car, I flagged it down and showed the officers where the...the body was."
"Ma'am, when you came upon her, did you see anyone else in the vicinity?"
"No. Just her."
"Hear anything in the vicinity?"
"No."
"Any noise in the bushes..."
"No."
"Sound of anyone running off..."
"No. Nothing."
"Where'd you enter the park, ma'am?"
"At the transverse road on Larson."
"Meet anyone coming toward you on the path?"
"No."
"See anyone going away from you on the path?"
"No one."
"How long did it take you to walk from Larson to where you discovered the body?"
"Five minutes? A little less?"
"See anyone at all during that time?"
"No one."
"Okay, miss, thank you," Carella said.
"We know this is upsetting," Brown said.
"It is."
"We know."
"We have your address, we'll contact you if we have any further questions," Carella said. "Meanwhile, try to put it out of your mind."
"I will, thank you."
"Goodnight, miss," Brown said.
She did not move.
"Miss?" Carella said.
Still she did not move.
"What is it?" he asked.
She shook her head.
Kept shaking it.
"Miss?"
"I'm afraid," she said.
And he realized she'd been hugging herself to keep from trembling.
"I'll ask the officers to drive you home," he said.
"Thank you," she said.
"Well, well, what have we here?" someone said, and they turned to see Monoghan and Monroe waddling toward the bench. In this city, the presence of Homicide Division detectives was mandatory at the scene of any murder or suicide. Even though the actual case belonged to the precinct detectives catching the squeal, Homicide was always there in a supervisory and advisory capacity. Didn't used to be that way in the old days, when Homicide cops were considered elite and precinct detectives were thought of as mere general practitioners in a world of police department specialists. But that was then and this was now, and in today's Cop Land the arrival of Homicide detectives was greeted without enthusiasm by the precinct cops actually working the case. The ME had his stethoscope inside the dead girl's blouse now. Monoghan looked somehow offended. So did Monroe.
"What is she, eighteen?" he said.
"Nineteen?" Monoghan said.
"Barbarian takeover," Monroe said, and glanced at the girl's face. "What do you think, Doc?"
"My immediate guess is strangulation," the ME said.
"Was she raped?" Monroe asked.
"Can't tell you that till we get her downtown."
"Guys who strangle teenagers usually rape them first," Monroe said. "Hello, Carella."
"Hello," Carella said.
Brown noticed that neither of the Homicide detectives ever said hello to him, but maybe he was being overly sensitive. "Has that been your experience?" he asked. "That strangled teenagers are usually rape victims as well?"
"That has been my experience, yes," Monroe said. "Most strangled teenagers have been violated first."
"Violated, huh?"
"Violated, yes."
"How many strangled-teenager cases have you investigated?" Brown asked.
Carella tried to keep from smiling.
"A few in my time, kiddo," Monroe said.
"Nothing's hard and fast in homicide cases, of course," Monoghan said, defending his partner. "But as a general rule, you can say strangled teenagers have usually been violated first."
"Be interesting to find out," the ME murmured, almost to himself. "Besides, she looks older."
"I'd appreciate your letting us know," Monroe said.
"How old would you say?" Monoghan asked.
"In her twenties, easily," the ME said.
The two Homicide detectives were wearing black on this hot summer night, black being the color of death and therefore their color of choice. Black was the traditional color of all Homicide detectives in this city. Black suits and black hats. In this city, the Homicide detectives needed only sunglasses to make them look like the Blues Brothers. Or like the two alien-chasers in the movie Men in Black. But one of those two had been black, and Brown had never seen a black Homicide cop in his life, except on television. He wondered how these dressed-in-black, lily-white guys felt, drawing down salaries for virtually nonexistent jobs. Supervisory and advisory, my ass, he thought. This was featherbedding of the highest order. Worst part of it was, they earned more than either he or Carella did. And it still rankled that they never said hello.
"Any witnesses to this?" Monroe asked.
"No," Carella said.
"How'd she happen to turn up?" Monoghan asked.
"Woman out for a stroll found her."
"Talk to the woman?"
"Few minutes ago. Saw no one, heard no one."
"Any idea who she is?"
"Her name is Susan Androtti."
"The dead girl?"
"No, the woman who..."
"I meant the girl."
"No ID that we could see. You find anything?" he asked the ME.
"Like what?" the ME said, looking up.
"Anything around her neck, or her wrists? Any kind of identification at all?"
"Nothing."
"Jane Doe," Brown said.
"Mrs. Jane Doe," Monroe said. "That's a wedding band, isn't it?"
The men all looked down at the slender gold band on the third finger of her left hand.
"Child bride," Monroe said.
"Nice knockers on her, though," Monoghan couldn't help observing.
"You got this?" Monroe asked.
"We've got it."
"Send us copies."
"In triplicate."
Brown wondered if they'd say goodbye to him.
"So long, Carella," Monroe said.
Monoghan said nothing. He followed his partner off, two black suits disappearing into the blackness of the night. The ME sighed, snapped his bag shut, and stood up. "I'm done here," he said. "She's yours."
"Okay to remove the wedding band?" Carella asked.
"She's no child bride," the ME said, as if Monroe's earlier remark had just registered. "Maybe twenty-two, twenty-three."
"Okay?" Carella asked again.
"Sure, go right ahead."
"Tell the paramedics I'll need a few minutes."
"Take your time," the ME said, and walked toward where a man and a woman in hospital gear were leaning against the ambulance. There was the incessant chatter of invisible insects on the soft night air. Carella knelt beside the dead girl.
Rings were often difficult to remove in the summertime, but this one came off with very little effort. He held it up to the light. There were three initials engraved inside the band: IHS.
"She's a nun," he almost whispered.

Copyright © 1999 by Hui Corp.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

The detectives hadn't even noticed the two men were aquainted. One of the two men was in the holding cell because he'd inconsiderately shot a little Korean grocer who'd resisted his attempts to empty the store's cash register. The other one was just being led into the cell. He'd been caught running from the scene of a liquor store holdup on Culver and Twelfth.

Aside from their occupations, the two men had nothing in common. One was white, the other was black. One was tall, the other was short. One had blue eyes, the other had brown eyes. One had the body of a weight lifter, possibly because he'd spent two years upstate on a prior felony. The one being led into the cell was somewhat plump. Sometimes, the plump ones were the ones to watch.

"Inside, let's move it," Andy Parker said and nudged him into the cell. Parker would later tell anyone who'd listen that he'd automatically figured the arresting blues had frisked the perp at the scene. "How was I to know he had a knife tucked into his crack?" he would ask the air.

In this instance, "crack" was not a controlled substance. Detective Parker was referring to the wedge between the man's ample buttocks, from which hiding place he had drawn a sling-blade knife the instant he spotted the body builder slouching and sulking in the far corner of the cage. What Parker did the minute he saw the plump little magician pull a knife out of his ass was slam the cell door shut and turn the key. At that very moment, Steve Carella and Artie Brown were together leading nine handcuffed basketball players into the squadroom. Both detectives smelled trouble at once.

The trouble was not that any policeman was in danger from the chubby little knife-wielding man in the cage. But the body builder was in police custody, and presumably under police protection as well, and every cop in that room conjured up visions of monumental lawsuits against the city for allowing a black man -- black, no less -- to be carved up while in a locked cell -- locked, no less -- with a fat white assassin who kept slashing the air with the knife and repeating over and over again, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"

Carella fired a shot at the ceiling.

"A minute before I was about to," Parker would later claim.

"You!" Carella yelled, sprinting toward the cage.

"Don't get any ideas," Brown warned the nine basketball players, who, although they were not lawyers, were already spouting learned Supreme Court decisions on false arrest and civil rights and such. Just in case one of them decided to drag the rest of his handcuffed buddies after him into the corridor, Brown drew his own gun and stood massively and menacingly between the players and the slatted wooden railing that separated the squadroom from the hallway outside.

"Oh, yeah?" the knifer in the cage said again, and slashed the air. The body builder kept backing away, hands circling the air in front of him. He had seen a few knife-wielders in his time, this dude, and he was waiting for the next gunshot from outside the cage, hoping the cops would help distract this crazy fat bastard who kept coming at him with the knife and yelling "Oh, yeah?" as if he was supposed to know what it meant. "Oh, yeah?" the corpulent little shit said again and again came at him.

"You hear me?" Carella shouted from just outside the cage now. "Throw that knife down! Now!"

"Juke him, man!" one of the basketball players shouted.

"Oh, yeah?" the fat man yelled, and lunged again, and this time drew blood.

The body builder yanked back his right hand as if a searing line of fire had scorched the palm, which in fact was exactly what the knife slash had felt like. His face went ashen when he turned his palm up and saw the deep cut spurting from pinkie to thumb. By then, the knifer, smelling blood, smelling fear, was closing in for the kill.

Parker, standing outside the cage with his gun in his hand, Carella standing alongside him with his own gun in his hand, had to decide in the next ten seconds whether they would be justified within the guidelines to drop the man in his tracks. They were both certain that a man pulling a knife while in police custody was reason enough for them to have drawn their weapons and shouted a warning. They both shouted warnings again, "Drop the knife!" from Carella, "Freeze!" from Parker, but the fat little man was neither freezing nor dropping the knife.

He simply kept moving closer and closer to the black body builder whose palm was steadily and alarmingly gushing blood, the knife swinging in the air ahead of him as he advanced, muttering, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"

"You crazy sumbitch, what's wrong with you?" the black man yelled, but the knifer kept coming on like a tank in the streets, the knife swinging, "Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah?"

"Steve?" Parker asked.

"Drop him," Carella said, and fired the first shot, hitting the knifer in the right thigh, collapsing him to his knees. Parker fired an instant later, taking the man in the right forearm, causing him to release his grip on the knife. As it clattered to the cell floor, the black man lunged for it.

"Don't," Carella said very softly.


The reason there were only nine basketball players in the squadroom -- rather than the customary ten, five to a team -- was that the forward on one of the teams had been shot while running downcourt for a basket. Presumably, one of the remaining nine players had fired the shot, since this had been a practice game without spectators, on a deserted playground court, on a sizzling Friday evening in August.

The oppressive heat notwithstanding, the pair of blues riding Adam Four knew the sound of a gunshot when they heard one. Two, in fact. In rapid succession. Bang, bang, like in the comics. They rolled up outside the cyclone fence in time to stop nine youths from dispersing fast, as was the usual case in this neighborhood whenever the music of gunfire filled the air.

The kids ranged in age from seventeen to twenty-four, twenty-five, the blues guessed, all of them wearing T-shirts and what one of the Adam Four cops described as "droopy shorts," which meant they hung down below the knees. The white team was wearing white T-shirts. The blue team was wearing blue T-shirts. The kid lying on the ground with two bullet holes in his chest was -- or had been -- a member of the white team, but his T-shirt was now stained a bright red.

The Adam Four cops found a .32 Smith & Wesson revolver in the weeds lining the dilapidated court. None of the nine knew anything at all about the gun or how Jabez Courtney happened to have got himself shot with it. All of them -- presumably including the one who'd shot young Jabez -- complained that they were being rounded up and herded to the cop shop simply because they were black, the O.J. legacy.

Now, at ten minutes to eight, Carella and Brown started doing their paperwork. In this city, the tempo in August slowed down to what Lieutenant Byrnes had once described as "summertime," not quite the equivalent of "ragtime," a slow-motion rhythm that leisurely waltzed the relieving team into the sometimes frantic pace of police work. There were three eight-hour shifts in any working day. First came the day shift, from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon. Next came the night shift, from four to midnight. Lastly, and least desirably, came the morning shift, from midnight to eight A.M. Usually, the teams were relieved at a quarter to the hour, but not during the month of August. In August, a good third of the squad was on vacation, and many of the detectives were pulling overtime working double shifts. Which perhaps explained why Carella and Brown, who had both clocked in at a quarter to eight this morning, were still here more than twelve hours later.

At this hour, there was a sort of languid tranquility to the squadroom. Despite the clamor of the nine ballplayers and their arriving attorneys, all armed to the teeth with arguments pertaining to mass and indiscriminate roundups of suspects, all prepared to summon the spectres of the Holocaust and the World War II Japanese-American concentration camps...

Despite the arrival of a paramedic team, all urgency and haste in earnest imitation of the actors on ER, rushing the bleeding body builder onto a stretcher and down the iron-runged steps to the waiting ambulance even though the patient kept protesting he could walk, damn it, wasn't nothin wrong with his legs...

Despite the arrival of a second team of paramedics, no less skilled in TV emulation than the first, who briskly and efficiently lifted the plump little former knifer onto another stretcher, bleeding from forearm and thigh and shouting to his benefactors that the man he'd stabbed had stolen his wife from him, an accusation dismissed by one of the paramedics with the consolation, "Cool it, amigo," though the knifer wasn't Hispanic...

Despite the arrival of two detectives from Internal Affairs who wanted to know what the hell had happened up here, how come a man in custody had been wounded by another man in custody, and how come sidearms had been drawn and fired, and all that bullshit, which Parker and Carella -- and even Brown, who'd innocently been riding herd on the nine ballplayers -- had to address before they could call it a day...

Despite the arrival of a man and his helper from what was euphemistically called the police department's Maintenance and Repair Division, here to fix the building's decrepit air-conditioning system, which of course was malfunctioning on a day with a high of ninety-two Fahrenheit, thirty-three Celsius...

Despite what to a disinterested observer might have appeared merely excessive motion and commotion, but which to the detectives coming and going was simply the usual ambience of the place in which they worked, give or take a few warm bodies...

Despite all this, there was a sort of familiar serenity.

As Carella and Parker and Brown reeled off guideline chapter and verse to the two shooflies eager to earn points with the Mayor's office by exposing yet more use of excessive force by yet another trio of brutal police officers...

As Carella and Brown together typed up their Detective Division report in triplicate on the nine ballplayers still protesting innocence in separate interrogations although almost certainly one of them had been the shooter and Jabez Courtney nonetheless lay stone-cold dead on a stainless-steel table at the St. Mary Boniface Mortuary...

As Parker kept complaining vociferously, first to the shooflies, and next to his fellow detectives, that the goddamn blues in Adam Four should have frisked the fat little bastard before cuffing him and bringing him up here for interrogation...

As Meyer and Kling came in from the field where they'd been interrogating a pawnbroker about a burglar they'd nicknamed The Cookie Boy, real life imitating art once again in that every cheap thief in every crime novel, movie, or television show was colorfully nicknamed by either newspersons or cops, fiction copying reality, the fake then feeding the actual in endless cyclical rotation...

"Leaves a platter of chocolate chip cookies just inside the front door," Meyer told Brown.

"Yeah?" Brown said, unimpressed.

"Better than shitting in the vic's shoes," Parker said.

"Which lots of them do," Kling agreed.

"You missed all the fun up here," Carella said.

"Looks like you're still having fun," Meyer said cheerfully.

As telephones rang, and voices overlapped and intertwined, Carella became aware of the summer sounds of August filtering up through the screened and open windows of the squadroom. There was a stickball game in progress under the glow of the side-street lampposts. On Grover Avenue, he could hear the clopping of horses drawing carriages into the park. Suddenly, there was the liquid trickle of a girl's laughter. He did not know how long ago he'd read the story, nor could he calculate how many times it had been brought to mind on how many separate summer days. But hearing the girl's lilting laughter, he thought again of Irwin Shaw's girls in their flimsy summer frocks, and smiled knowingly. Yellow. The laughing girl somewhere on the street below would be wearing a yellow dress.

Still smiling, he went to the wooden In-Out board -- admittedly an old-fashioned way of tracking in this day and age of E-mail and computer technology, but still serviceable and accessible at a glance -- and was about to move his hanging name tag from the In column to the Out column because finally, at ten minutes to nine on a long hot summer's day -- thirteen hours after he'd moved the tag in the opposite direction -- he was ready to go home.

The door to Lieutenant Byrnes's office opened.

"Steve? Artie?" he called. "Glad I caught you."


The dead girl lay sprawled in front of a bench in Grover Park, not seven blocks from the station house, on a gravel footpath only yards off Grover Avenue. She was wearing a white blouse and pale blue slacks, white socks and scuffed Reeboks. Flies were already buzzing around her. Not a sign of blood anywhere, but flies were already sipping at her wide-open eyes. Didn't need a medical examiner to tell them she'd been strangled. The bruise marks on her throat corroborated their immediate surmise.

"Touch anything?" Carella asked.

"No, sir!" one of the blues answered, sounding offended.

"This just the way you found her?" Brown asked.

He was thinking he didn't see a handbag anywhere around. Carella was thinking the same thing. The two men stood side by side in the dim light cast by a lamppost some five feet from the bench on the winding gravel path. Brown was the color of his name, six feet two inches tall and built like a cargo ship. Carella was a white man standing an even six feet tall and weighing a hundred and eighty-five in a good week. Summertime, with all the junk food, he usually shot up to a hundred-ninety, two hundred at the outside. The men had been working out of the Eight-Seven for a long time, partnered together more often than not. They could almost read each other's minds.

The assistant medical examiner arrived some five minutes later, complaining about summertime traffic, greeting the detectives, whom he'd met before at other crime scenes, and then getting to work while the blues stretched their yellow tapes and kept the forming crowd back. Nothing the residents of this city liked better than a good sidewalk show, especially in the summertime. Brown asked the blues how they'd come upon the body. The younger of the two uniformed cops said a female pedestrian had flagged their car and told them a woman was lying on the park path here, either sick or dead or something.

"Did you detain her?" Brown asked.

"Sure did, sir. She's standing right over there."

"Did you talk to her?" Carella asked.

"Few questions, is all."

"Did she see anyone?"

"No, sir. Just walkin through the park, came upon the vic, sir."

Carella and Brown glanced over toward where a woman was standing under the light of the lamppost.

"What's her name?" Carella asked.

"Susan...uh...just a second, it's an Italian name," he said, and took out his notebook. Anything ending in a vowel always threw them. Carella waited. "Androtti," the officer said. "That's a double t."

"Thanks," Carella said, and looked over at the woman again. She seemed to be in her late forties or thereabouts, a tall, thin woman with her arms folded across her bosom, hugging herself as if trying to retain body warmth, though the temperature still hovered in the low eighties. The detectives walked over to her.

"Miss Androtti?" Carella said.

"Yes?"

There was a stunned look on her face. It was not a pretty face to begin with, but the shock of having stumbled across a corpse had robbed it of all expression. They had seen this look before. They did not think Susan Androtti would sleep well tonight.

"We have to ask you some questions, ma'am, we're sorry," Carella said.

"That's okay," she said.

Her voice was low, toneless.

"Can you tell us what time you found the body, ma'am?"

"It must've been eight o'clock or so," she said. "It was so hot in the apartment, I came down for a walk."

"Here in the park," Brown said.

"Yes."

"Saw her lying there on the path, is that it?"

"Yes. I didn't know what it was at first. I thought it was...forgive me, I thought it was a bundle of clothes or something. Then I realized it was a woman."

"What'd you do then?"

"I guess I screamed."

"Uh-huh."

"And ran out of the park, looking for a call box. A police call box. When I saw the patrol car, I flagged it down and showed the officers where the...the body was."

"Ma'am, when you came upon her, did you see anyone else in the vicinity?"

"No. Just her."

"Hear anything in the vicinity?"

"No."

"Any noise in the bushes..."

"No."

"Sound of anyone running off..."

"No. Nothing."

"Where'd you enter the park, ma'am?"

"At the transverse road on Larson."

"Meet anyone coming toward you on the path?"

"No."

"See anyone going away from you on the path?"

"No one."

"How long did it take you to walk from Larson to where you discovered the body?"

"Five minutes? A little less?"

"See anyone at all during that time?"

"No one."

"Okay, miss, thank you," Carella said.

"We know this is upsetting," Brown said.

"It is."

"We know."

"We have your address, we'll contact you if we have any further questions," Carella said. "Meanwhile, try to put it out of your mind."

"I will, thank you."

"Goodnight, miss," Brown said.

She did not move.

"Miss?" Carella said.

Still she did not move.

"What is it?" he asked.

She shook her head.

Kept shaking it.

"Miss?"

"I'm afraid," she said.

And he realized she'd been hugging herself to keep from trembling.

"I'll ask the officers to drive you home," he said.

"Thank you," she said.

"Well, well, what have we here?" someone said, and they turned to see Monoghan and Monroe waddling toward the bench. In this city, the presence of Homicide Division detectives was mandatory at the scene of any murder or suicide. Even though the actual case belonged to the precinct detectives catching the squeal, Homicide was always there in a supervisory and advisory capacity. Didn't used to be that way in the old days, when Homicide cops were considered elite and precinct detectives were thought of as mere general practitioners in a world of police department specialists. But that was then and this was now, and in today's Cop Land the arrival of Homicide detectives was greeted without enthusiasm by the precinct cops actually working the case. The ME had his stethoscope inside the dead girl's blouse now. Monoghan looked somehow offended. So did Monroe.

"What is she, eighteen?" he said.

"Nineteen?" Monoghan said.

"Barbarian takeover," Monroe said, and glanced at the girl's face. "What do you think, Doc?"

"My immediate guess is strangulation," the ME said.

"Was she raped?" Monroe asked.

"Can't tell you that till we get her downtown."

"Guys who strangle teenagers usually rape them first," Monroe said. "Hello, Carella."

"Hello," Carella said.

Brown noticed that neither of the Homicide detectives ever said hello to him, but maybe he was being overly sensitive. "Has that been your experience?" he asked. "That strangled teenagers are usually rape victims as well?"

"That has been my experience, yes," Monroe said. "Most strangled teenagers have been violated first."

"Violated, huh?"

"Violated, yes."

"How many strangled-teenager cases have you investigated?" Brown asked.

Carella tried to keep from smiling.

"A few in my time, kiddo," Monroe said.

"Nothing's hard and fast in homicide cases, of course," Monoghan said, defending his partner. "But as a general rule, you can say strangled teenagers have usually been violated first."

"Be interesting to find out," the ME murmured, almost to himself. "Besides, she looks older."

"I'd appreciate your letting us know," Monroe said.

"How old would you say?" Monoghan asked.

"In her twenties, easily," the ME said.

The two Homicide detectives were wearing black on this hot summer night, black being the color of death and therefore their color of choice. Black was the traditional color of all Homicide detectives in this city. Black suits and black hats. In this city, the Homicide detectives needed only sunglasses to make them look like the Blues Brothers. Or like the two alien-chasers in the movie Men in Black. But one of those two had been black, and Brown had never seen a black Homicide cop in his life, except on television. He wondered how these dressed-in-black, lily-white guys felt, drawing down salaries for virtually nonexistent jobs. Supervisory and advisory, my ass, he thought. This was featherbedding of the highest order. Worst part of it was, they earned more than either he or Carella did. And it still rankled that they never said hello.

"Any witnesses to this?" Monroe asked.

"No," Carella said.

"How'd she happen to turn up?" Monoghan asked.

"Woman out for a stroll found her."

"Talk to the woman?"

"Few minutes ago. Saw no one, heard no one."

"Any idea who she is?"

"Her name is Susan Androtti."

"The dead girl?"

"No, the woman who..."

"I meant the girl."

"No ID that we could see. You find anything?" he asked the ME.

"Like what?" the ME said, looking up.

"Anything around her neck, or her wrists? Any kind of identification at all?"

"Nothing."

"Jane Doe," Brown said.

"Mrs. Jane Doe," Monroe said. "That's a wedding band, isn't it?"

The men all looked down at the slender gold band on the third finger of her left hand.

"Child bride," Monroe said.

"Nice knockers on her, though," Monoghan couldn't help observing.

"You got this?" Monroe asked.

"We've got it."

"Send us copies."

"In triplicate."

Brown wondered if they'd say goodbye to him.

"So long, Carella," Monroe said.

Monoghan said nothing. He followed his partner off, two black suits disappearing into the blackness of the night. The ME sighed, snapped his bag shut, and stood up. "I'm done here," he said. "She's yours."

"Okay to remove the wedding band?" Carella asked.

"She's no child bride," the ME said, as if Monroe's earlier remark had just registered. "Maybe twenty-two, twenty-three."

"Okay?" Carella asked again.

"Sure, go right ahead."

"Tell the paramedics I'll need a few minutes."

"Take your time," the ME said, and walked toward where a man and a woman in hospital gear were leaning against the ambulance. There was the incessant chatter of invisible insects on the soft night air. Carella knelt beside the dead girl.

Rings were often difficult to remove in the summertime, but this one came off with very little effort. He held it up to the light. There were three initials engraved inside the band: IHS.

"She's a nun," he almost whispered.

Copyright © 1999 by Hui Corp.

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Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, January 6th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Ed McBain to discuss THE BIG BAD CITY.


Moderator: Welcome, Ed McBain. Thank you very much for joining us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Ed McBain: I am doing great!


Julie Foreman from Melbourne, Australia: I am so excited to have this opportunity. BIG BAD CITY has not yet been released in Australia, but we are looking forward to it. Do you have any plans to visit Australia again in the near future?

Ed McBain: None at the moment. My wife and I were in Southeast Asia last year but didn't get as far as Australia. I hope to be back there soon.


David Bell from Oxford, Ohio: How do you research the police and their tactics? What kind of access do you have to the police, and how did you get it?

Ed McBain: I don't do much anymore. I used to do a lot when I first started the series. I used to research the cops -- ride in the cars, visit the courtrooms, labs, stations, et cetera -- but now I know quite a bit about it all so I don't need to. I do keep up with new techniques and weaponry.


LNOFT97@AOL.COM (Sal) from Syracuse New York: I'm dying to know -- what happened to the Deaf Man? Will you explain his miraculous escape in an upcoming book?

Ed McBain: You mean when he was chained to the bed? He will be back. He has some unfinished business. You will notice if you read my books closely that justice is almost always met out sooner or later -- either street justice or actual justice. The bad guys pay. The Deaf Man has some unfinished business with the lady who left him chained to the bed. But when you mention his "miraculous escape," you reminded me of something. A writer was doing a serial for the then Saturday Evening Post. He had this character Lance Bigallo and he was in a pit that was slowly filling with water, and the serial ended there. His agent and editor were all biting their nails -- what would he do? The next episode began, "With a mighty leap, Lance sprang out of the pit." So maybe that is how the Deaf Man got out of the bed. [laughs] No really, Deaf Man will be back. He is brilliant and I am not. I need to think hard on plots worthy of his genius.


Matt from New York: What do you think Alfred Hitchcock would have thought of Gus Van Sant's remake of "Psycho"?

Ed McBain: He would wretch. I didn't see it but I know -- having worked with Hitch -- that he was so meticulous in his own work, he won't want a copy or shadow of what he had done. There is more in Hitch's genius than just copying his shots frame by frame.


Jim Charter from Ames, Iowa: It seems like it has been a long time between 87th Precinct novels. Any particular reason?

Ed McBain: Well, it hasn't been so long. NOCTURNE was out last year I believe -- maybe 18 months ago. It only seems long! But there is a real reason. I have been working very hard on a Broadway musical, and this has occupied much of my time and is taking me away from writing books. It is called "The Night They Raid Minskys." Minsky's was big burlesque on the Lower East Side in New York. In 1925 it was raided on an obscure section of the moral code that was absurd by today's standards. I am writing the libretto for it. The composer is Charles Strouse, who wrote "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Annie." The lyricist is Susan Birkenhend, from "Jelly's Last Jam." Mike Ockrent is director (from "Me and My Girl"). Susan Stroman is doing the choreography. She just rechoreographed "Oklahoma!" in London, which is getting rave reviews. Working on this show has been very exciting but very time consuming.


Marcus from Charlottesville, Virginia: Your characters are so three-dimensional. You honestly capture both the mind-set of the cops and the criminals. Do you study psych profiles of criminals? What aids in your character development?

Ed McBain: No, I never do that. It is hard to explain. I do not know what the process is myself. I just sort of put myself in the heads of these people. It is not a difficult thing to do. You just slightly twist your own motives and thought processes. For example, if we (noncriminals) need money, we go to the bank and withdraw cash. A criminal will go and try to rob the bank. Or if someone is unhappy with his wife, he divorces her. A criminal, on the other hand, would try to kill her. If you just change your mind-set slightly you can begin to think like a criminal.


Karen Dolyniuk from Dundas, Ontario, Canada: So, aside from his brief appearance in THE BIG BAD CITY, have we really seen the last of Matthew Hope?

Ed McBain: I don't know. I didn't know in THE LAST BEST HOPE that he would be calling Carella in this book. Having it happen, it was not surprising to me that the two men got along. It would not surprise me if Matthew pops up again. But I do not expect to write a full-length novel with Matt again..


Pike from Philadelphia: What is your opinion about some of the various TV adaptations of your novels? Will we see more Matthew Hope and 87th Precinct collaborations? I enjoyed your inside joke in the last Hope book about the Asphalt Jungle versus the Blackboard Jungle

Ed McBain: Yeah. [laughs] They recently did three two-hour movies based on 87th Precinct novels. The first was, I thought, terrible. Very soft. The joke between me and my agent was that it should have been called "The Cops of Madison County." The second TV movie was a little better. By the third one, they caught on. "Ice" was good, but NBC decided they wanted to put a more female-oriented show in the Sunday-night slot. I said to them, "You understand that a lot of my readers are women?" They said, "Ho-hum." But we have optioned THREE BLIND MICE (no link) for a CBS TV movie, and Michael Dennehe will play Matthew Hope. They are close to getting the screenplay, and I think they will shoot soon. I never know these things.


Julie Foreman from Melbourne, Australia: When is Bert going to have a relationship that is not impossible?

Ed McBain: [laughs] I just started outlining the next 87th Precinct novel. I hope to put some words on paper soon. He and Sharon Cook will figure largely in this one. I hope this relationship will work. This question is asked a lot at book signings but phrased something like "Will that poor boy Cling ever find happiness with a good woman?" I once suggested at a book signing, "Well, I was thinking of having him have an affair with Teddy Carella." It was like a bomb had dropped. I just couldn't resist such blasphemy.


David Bell from Oxford, Ohio: You probably get asked this all the time, but what stands out as your favorite, or the one you think is the best of the 87th Precinct novels?

Ed McBain: I don't know. For several years I wrote dark novels -- VESPERS, WIDOWS, KISS, LULLABY --and I thought they were very good. They echoed the despair I was feeling for the city I love, New York. I like those a lot, but I think my favorite was LONG TIME NO SEE. It was a big fat book and long because it took Carella a long time to figure out what was going on. I enjoy reading it now and then. ICE was another of my favorites. Good one. A lot of resonance in the plot. Newsweek chose it as one of the ten best crime novels of the 20th century. There was only one other living writer on the list, Elmore Leonard, whose work I admire a great deal.


Gerald from New York: Hello, Mr. Hunter. I've been an avid reader and short-story writer since college. Currently, I'm looking to write a novel. Can you describe your writing process and list some of your influences? Thank you.

Ed McBain: I don't know if my influences would be the same as yours. When I was coming on and just beginning writing, the influences for my generation were Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and in the mystery field Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James N. Caine. I am not sure who the models are now. My own method of starting a novel is, with a mystery novel, I start with a title. For a long time I used single word titles that had to have many resonances and meanings. THE BIG BAD CITY -- I have used this phrase in many other novels. It has echoed so long in my books along the line. But anyway, I usually just jump right in and start writing with a scene that is absolutely compelling and will keep the readers attention. I keep going and if the energy starts to flag, I start plotting on paper and outlining. A good way for beginning writers to find their own voice (this may sound peculiar) is to copy something by someone they admire word for word. Actually type it. Get the feeling for what it is like. I am not suggesting plagiarism. This is just an exercise.


Carla from Fulton, Mississippi: How do you keep the different series of books you write separate in your mind? This seems like it would be a difficult task. Also, any plans for a Matthew Hope book in the near future? I love these books!

Ed McBain: It was fairly simple. There have only been two series in recent years, and it was very simple to keep them apart because they are such different settings -- the big bad city and palm trees swaying. Matthew Hope was very different from Steve Carella. Carella would go to a beach in New Jersey. Matt would go to the French Riviera. It was not difficult to keep them apart.


Karen Dolyniuk from Dundas, Ontario: What about Benjamin Smoke? Do you think he'll ever surface again?

Ed McBain: Yes. He will surface again, but this is amazing that this question comes up now because Ben was in a book, WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, 10 or 15 years ago. He now practices privately and he will not take a case unless he feels he can solve it and as he can't solve it he gets more and more unhappy. Anyway, truly just this week, my agent called and said that by the end of this week we will have papers on a TV movie for Ben Smoke. It should be on your set sometime this year or next.


Sharon from St. Louis: Why did you originally decide to use a pen name, and why did you decide to make public your identity?

Ed McBain: Hmmm. I know the answer but will make it brief. When I was first approached to write a series of mystery novels, I came up with a conglomerate hero (i.e. if you put all the cops in a squad room together, they would be the hero). At the time it was unique. Now it is commonplace. When I started the 87th Precinct in 1956, I was coming off the success of an Evan Hunter book -- THE BLACKWOOD JUNGLE -- and my publisher thought it would kill my Evan Hunter career if the public knew I was writing mysteries. Back then, mystery novels were not as respectable (something you would carry around in a brown paper bag!). They asked me to choose a pseudonym, and I chose Ed McBain. We kept it a secret for up to five years. When the reviews were great, we thought it couldn't possibly hurt my career, and so we let the cat out of the bag. Why Ed McBain? That came out of the blue. I was finishing the book COP HATER and I went into the kitchen and my wife was feeding my twin sons and I asked, "How does Ed McBain sound?" and she said, "Good," and that was that! It might have been an unconscious association with "bane" -- the word for poison. Or in RED HARVEST, the Dashiell Hammett novel, there is a line in there about a "McBain."


Jim Moore from Maine: Mr. McBain -- Never had the guts to quit the day job (ATF agent), but your work has inspired me to write. Only two published so far, one in the mill. Question: My fourth is a suspense novel set in New York City in 1936. Where's the best place to research ambience for scene settings?

Ed McBain: That is tough. There are a lot of books written about the Depression and a lot of them are set in New York City, where all the Hoovervilles were. There are a lot of books written about swing. You can check out the kind of music that was played at that time. Also, books about the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany -- many refer to what was happening in New York as well. And get books on motion pictures and plays and those will give you info of ambience and what movies, plays were popular. And also a very good source of info -- the almanac for 1936 and 1937!


Chuck Levitt from Atlanta: We hosted you at Bouchercon, you were great. Do you like doing conventions? What has been the highlight of your writing career? Best wishes in the New Year!

Ed McBain: Hi, Chuck! I remember you quite well, and Happy New Year to you too! I rarely show up at conventions because I really do hate them. I am not sure why. The high point of my career: First, when I sold the BLACKBOARD JUNGLE for a sum that seemed astronomical at the time -- a $25 dollar advance. It was very exciting. The second was I guess when I went to a screening at the Allied Artist here in New York for "Last Summer" and, watching my movie, I knew it was going to be a big hit. I rushed out and called my agent excited. And also when KISS got high up on the bestseller list maybe ten years ago. It was the first time a McBain novel had been on the list. Hunter novels had been on already but this was the first McBain. And also writing this musical now.


Paul from New York City: What type of reaction (if any) have you gotten from police? Do you find that cops tend to be fans of your books?

Ed McBain: Yes. It is odd. Not so much in New York City. The cops here are blasé. In other places -- at book signings at least -- a half dozen cops show up. I have patches from all over the country. They usually say, "You really tell it like it is."


John from East Village: Hello, Mr. Hunter. You defined the genre. What do you think of the accuracy of TV shows like "Homicide" or "NYPD Blue"? They seem to me to owe more than just homage to you.

Ed McBain: No kidding! No, really, thanks! I hate to answer this type of question, because it is a bitter pill for me. I do not discuss Bochco's work in my house when children are around. No, it isn't really that. I certainly didn't come out of the blue. By the time I started the 87th Precinct, I had seen "Dragnet" and "Naked City" and seen Broadway's "My Beat" and a lot of other things that were cop oriented. Everything is premised by what has come before. You are impressed by it, you imitate it to some extent, and if you are good, you take it further. The only TV shows I resent are those that are stolen from the 87th Precinct.


Julie Foreman from Melbourne: Some of your characters, such as Meyer Meyer and Cotton Hawes, have not featured as prominently in later books. Have you intended to concentrate on Carella?

Ed McBain: Well, Cotton was partnered with Carella in NOCTURNE, and in the main plot, not a subplot. Meyer Meyer is partnered with Cling in this book, THE BIG BAD CITY, in the subplot -- so they are around. The main plot in BIG BAD CITY is with Carella and Arty Brown. They all sort of walk out of the spotlight like performers in a repertoire company.


John Greene from New York: I know that you wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's "The Birds." What was it like working with Hitchcock? Will you write any other screenplays?

Ed McBain: Working with him was a wonderful experience and frustrating at the same time. I have written a book called ME AND HITCH -- a small book, a memoir. It describes the whole experience. It was exciting because he was so imaginative, but he had a hidden agenda and it was different from my agenda. What emerged was a good movie but not the great one it could have been. As to screenplays, in Hollywood, you are over the hill when you are over 34 years old. My wife is a drama coach studying film at NYU, and I am certain we will do movies together in the future. Her name is Dragica Dimitrijevic Hunter. She is originally from Yugoslavia and came to New York and studied at the Actors Studio and is now teaching at the Lee Stasberg Institute.


Alice from New York: When you write one of your mysteries, do you know from the start who will have committed the crime, or do you discover the criminal as the cops themselves do? Do you write an outline first?

Ed McBain: Only sometimes do I know who did it. Most of the time I just find the body with the cops and learn things as the cops do. The readers just know what the cops know and I do as they are reading along. Most of the time that is. As I explained earlier, I outline as I go along. I have found that if I outline too far in advance it becomes typing, not writing.


Moderator: Thanks, Ed McBain! Best of luck with THE BIG BAD CITY. Do you have any closing comments for the online audience?

Ed McBain: Yes. If you are going to buy BIG BAD CITY, buy it now, but whenever you do, please enjoy!


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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    Jason

    Wakes up gets dressed and takes his corvette out for a drive with his cat.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Kathtine

    Ok

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Phil

    150 acres and a remodled house 4,000

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2013

    SOLD

    001 NOBLE ST SOLD TO JASON

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2001

    Nobody Does It Better

    Ed McBain AKA Evan Hunter has set the standard for police procedural crime fiction. Nobody does it better. In fact, he is the single most influential American novelist in this or any genre. Each installment of the 87th Precinct series is extremely inventive and entertaining. I highly recommend them all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2000

    Enjoyable Reading

    There are four sub plots to the mystery. The cookie boy who leaves cookies after robbing people, an old murder involving a band, a new murder with a dead nun, and the killing of a policemens father. The writer did a great job incorporating all the characters. It was enjoyable to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2000

    McBain does it again!!

    This book kept me guessing the whole way untill the last page. It contained sub plots that you forgot about untill they hit you in the face. A must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 1999

    Ed McBain is Still the Master of the Police Procedural

    I could hardly wait to read this latest book about the good old 87th! Believe me, McBain does not disappoint. McBain brings alive the characters and the city in which they dwell. As with all of McBain's novels, I could not put this one down. I dreaded reaching the end, but I look forward to visiting with the city's finest again soon!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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