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From Barnes & NobleThe 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'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.