Showing posts with label 87th Precinct. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 87th Precinct. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

87th Precinct #07 - Killer's Wedge

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels are the perfect remedy for a summer reading slump. The earlier installments of the series stand alone quite nicely, and these urban police procedurals are always short and exciting. I randomly chose 1959’s Killer’s Wedge, the seventh installment, for this excursion.

A crazy bitch walks into the 87th Precinct looking for Detective Steve Carrella. The fellows tell her that Carrella is away, but she can wait on the bench in the hall for him. The lady wants to wait in the detective bullpen, which is a no-go for the guys. When they ask her to leave, she pulls a gun on them, and we have a hostage situation. Man, this is an awesome opening scene.

We quickly learn that the lady wants to kill Carrella. She can explain her reasons when you read the book. She has a container of liquid that may or may not be nitroglycerin, so disarming her is not as easy as it seems. McBain’s takes a different tactic with this aspect of his story, which otherwise would have been filled with nervous tension. Instead, the detectives are mostly annoyed and worried that this nutty chick is going to accidentally kill them all.

There is also a decent B-Story involving a locked room mystery that may or may not have been a suicide. Carrella is investigating this on the streets while his squad mates are being held hostage by the murderous lady awaiting Carrella‘s return to the 87th. This is another plot made entirely possible by the lack of cell phones.

The events culminate in a fantastic action sequence to end the thin paperback. This may have been the shortest of the 87th Precinct novels. A version of it appeared in February 1959’s Manhunt Magazine, and the book lives on to this day as a reprint, e-book, and audiobook. It’s probably not the best 87th Precinct series selection, but it’s not a bad place to enter if you are looking for a short taste of this wonderful McBain universe. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

87th Precinct #11 - Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

The 87th Precinct series of police procedural mysteries were the crowning achievement of author Ed McBain (1926-2005, birth name: Salvatore Lombino, adopted name: Evan Hunter). The books star a rotating cast of cop characters dealing with the ins-and-outs of big-city policing and the crimes that keep them busy at the intersection of Dragnet and Hill Street Blues. The 11th paperback in the series is Give the Boys a Great Big Hand from 1960.

It’s a rainy day in the urban environs of Isola, McBain’s thinly-veiled fictional analog to Manhattan. A foot patrol officer spots a distant figure with an overcoat, hat and umbrella boarding a city bus while leaving an airline overnight bag behind at the bus stop. The vigilant beat cop makes his way to the bus stop, opens the bag, and finds a severed human hand inside. This is the Chapter One spark that ignites the action in this lean, 200-page mystery.

The patrolman brings the bag and the detached hand to the detective bureau at the 87th Precinct for further investigation, and we get reacquainted with all our chatty old friends chewing the fat in the squad area. The dialogue among the unflappable cops is often some of the best - and most authentic-sounding - parts of any McBain novel. For the reader, the funny conversations are really an opportunity to witness a master writer at work.

Each of the 87th Precinct series installments stand well on their own and feature different combinations of the detectives who solve the cases. The case of the severed hand is assigned to two of the strongest characters in the series: Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes. Carella is a smart, tough and hard-working steel-jawed hero, and Hawes is a redhead ladies' man. We also get a liberal dose of Meyer Meyer, a cop with the mannerisms of a Jewish borscht-belt comedian. It’s like a perfectly-cast buddy cop movie.

Most murder mysteries find the investigators searching for the identity of the killer, but Give the Boys a Great Big Hand turns the formula on its head because the detectives need to find the identity of the victim first. They begin with reports of missing persons and find themselves in a web of strippers, prostitutes, drummers, cheating husbands, and other colorful citizens. All of this leads to a rather gruesome ending that will test your gag reflex and satisfy your search for a logical solution.

Where does Give the Boys a Great Big Hand fall on the McBain-o-Meter? It’s definitely top-tier, but maybe not the absolute tops. It’s certainly worth reading and remains in print today. You shouldn’t have a problem finding a copy. You can get it HERE.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 58

On jam-packed Episode 58 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss author Jack Pearl as well as many other topics including: Cancer perks! Ed McBain! Maltese Falcon! Len Deighton! Ace Doubles! Christmas in August! And much, much more. Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 58: Jack Pearl" on Spreaker.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

87th Precinct #08 - Lady Killer

Ed McBain, a pseudonym of Evan Hunter, found the pinnacle of his literary success in his 87th Precinct series of police procedural mysteries. The fictionalized version of NYC, the chatty omniscient narrator, and the ensemble cast of worldly-wise police detectives are all ingredients that make the series a lot of fun to read. I’ve been enjoying the thinner early novels in random order, so today we join the series with the eigth installment, 1958’s Lady Killer.

It’s a suffocating summer in the 87th Precinct, and a someone is threatening to kill a lady tonight at 8:00. The threat came to the police station in an anonymous letter. Is the letter legit or the work of a crank? With not much to go on and only 12 hours until 8pm, the cops use the letter itself for leads. Fingerprints? Identification of the delivery boy? And who’s the lady?

Detective Cotton Hawes takes the wheel as lead investigator of the death threat. Hawes is a hard-nosed interrogator who really leans into every interview like he’s shooting for a one-punch knockout. Series mainstay Steve Carella plays second fiddle in the case. Steve is the best detective in the 87th, and a recurring hero in the series. He’s also the smartest mind in the 87th, and his scenes tend to be the best. Watching Cotton and Steve evolve as new friends and partners was a joy to read.

The mystery itself is really two-pronged as the detectives need to identify both the would-be murderer and his intended victim. There are some great action sequences as the cat and mouse game intensifies and bullets start to fly.

To date, Lady Killer is my favorite of the 87th Precinct novels. McBain tightened up his storytelling and let the cast of detectives focus on one important case. There are no significant subplots or a b-story crime to solve, and the final solution was logical, plausible, and satisfying. This one’s a total winner.


Newer editions of Lady Killer contain an insightful introduction by the author explaining how the novel came to be. The paperback was written over nine days during the summer of 1957 at a rate of 20 pages per day. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, January 16, 2020

87th Precinct #02 - The Mugger

The 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain (a pseudonym of Evan Hunter) was a tremendous literary success with around 55 novels spanning from 1956 to the author’s death in 2005. Those in-the-know say that the shorter early installments are the best use of your time before the demands of the market made the novels more bloated and convoluted later in the series. Today, we examine the second paperback, The Mugger, from 1956.

In order to firmly establish that the 87th Precinct is a true ensemble group of heroes, the lead detective from the first novel, Steve Carrella, is largely absent from “The Mugger” while he is on his honeymoon. In his absence, the 87th Precinct of Isola (McBain’s fictionalized version of Manhattan) is being plagued by a mugger roughing-up innocent women and robbing their purses. The most promising clue is that the mugger always ends his strongarm robberies with a deep bow while declaring, “Clifford thanks you, madam!”

There is a secondary plot involving a 24 year-old rookie patrolman named Bert Kling who is home recovering from a gunshot wound. An acquaintance introduces Kling to a troubled 17-year-old girl who appears to be going down the wrong path. The hope is that a heart-to-heart with a policeman might help the girl. Bored with his convalescence, Kling agrees to speak to the young lady, who happens to be a slender little dish uninterested in sharing her problems with the young patrolman. After rebuffing Kling’s outreach, she finds herself violently murdered a few pages later creating another mystery to be solved.

Could the violent death of the girl somehow be related to the oddball mugger terrorizing the women of Isola? The detectives of the 87th endeavor to find out while Kling, the novel’s best character, punches above his weight conducting his own investigation - a violation of department policy for a patrolman.

We get to know a lot of other characters in the 87th, and McBain does a nice job of making the ensemble come alive. We meet the Jewish police detective - and comic relief - Meyer Meyer. We bear witness to the controversial tactics of racist psychopath cop, Roger Havilland. A sexy, voluptuous female cop named Eileen Burke is used as bait to smoke out the mugger. She’s another awesome character, and readers will want to know her better in later installments.

The answers to the paperback’s central mysteries were satisfying but not groundbreaking or terribly twisty. You’ll see one solution coming from a mile away, but that’s not the point of a police procedural. The appeal of the series is a realistic glance behind the curtain revealing how cops do what they do. In that respect, The Mugger is the best Ed McBain book I’ve read thus far, and you should make reading this one a priority. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 18, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 20

Our feature this episode is Ed McBain’s popular 87th Precinct series coupled with Eric’s review of the first installment “Cop Hater.” Additionally, Tom covers Lawrence Block’s “The Girl with the Long Green Heart.” Stream below or on any popular streaming service. Download directly here (Link).

Listen to "Episode 20: Ed McBain" on Spreaker.

Monday, October 1, 2018

87th Precinct #04 - Con Man

The '87th Precinct' novels by Ed McBain are a blast to read - particularly the early ones. They are short, snappy, and clever books told by a disembodied third-person narrator who provides personality and commentary along the way without ever actually being an active character in the books - think Rod Serling in “The Twilight Zone.” Meanwhile, the ensemble cast of police detectives working the cases prevents the series from ever falling into a rut due to character burn-out. The rotating line-up of featured performers keeps the novels evergreen.

“The Con Man” from 1957 is the fourth book in the series, and finds the citizens of the 87th being victimized by a bunco artist using deception to cheat good people out of their money. Meanwhile, a bloated and water-logged woman’s body washes up on the city’s riverbank. Could this mysterious death somehow be connected to the con artist working the neighborhood?

The Lebron James of the 87th Precinct is Detective Steve Carella (Did you think I was going to say Meyer Meyer?), and he is assigned the case of the mysterious floater. The clues are sparse because the river has claimed the hair on her head (Pubic hair: blonde, he notes), and the body is a distended mess. The corpse’s only remaining clothing is a bra stretched to the breaking point by the bloating torso, but a tell-tale tattoo might provide a lead. Through Carella’s eyes, McBain goes into great detail about the medical examiner’s autopsy and the inherent challenges involved with identifying a floater. I can only assume that McBain did his homework because it’s fascinating stuff - but not for the squeamish.

About a third of the way through the book, our omniscient narrator opines that the 87th’s big problem was the floater, and the 87th’s little problem was the con man. McBain structures the narrative like the A story and the B story of a TV cop show, and an astute reader is not surprised when the story of the con man somehow merges with the story of the floater.

As usual, McBain’s writing is superb. His descriptions of the action are vivid and his knack for dialogue - even when it’s just cops bullshitting in the squad room - is spot-on. Like his contemporaries Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, McBain’s writing is a national treasure. Recommended.

Buy a copy of "Con Man" HERE

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

87th Precinct #01- Cop Hater

It's intimidating to write a literary critique for Ed McBain's kickstarter Cop Hater. Written by Evan Hunter, it's the mantle piece for the police procedural book and the debut of the highly respectable 87th Precinct series. According to the author, it was written in 1955 after spending a lengthy amount of time within the NYPD researching and planning. In the Thomas & Mercer re-print, Hunter's introduction provides an intimate peek at the book's development (which you can read for free as an Amazon download sample) and the conception of the pseudonym McBain.

While the police procedural could probably be linked to a handful of novels a decade before, the 87th Precinct series was probably only rivaled by the show that influenced it – Dragnet. While detective Steve Carella is featured as a main character, the series is one of the first (if not first) to feature a conglomerate hero, the squad of cops that make up the fictional 87th Precinct. The squad is a character just as much as the unnamed fictional city is. Hunter, while struggling with placing the series in New York City, found it much easier to fictionalize the city while using NYC as a primary blueprint.

While not ruining it for the new reader, the concept of Cop Hater is essentially that – a madman targeting police officers of the 87th Precinct. Like a good Agatha Christie whodunit, the mystery enlarges as the corpses stack up. While never explicit or terribly violent (or I'm just numb), we familiarize ourselves with these officers only to find them shockingly killed off before our very eyes. We're at the scene of the crime, but never know the killer's identity until the end. It's not a first-person narration like a majority of detective fiction, instead it's the author leading us through the alleys, buildings and squad rooms of this sweltering city. Detective Steve Carella is firmly embedded in the action, introduced here along with his fiance, the lovable Theodora Franklin.

The muggy July heat plays havoc on these characters, eroding patience, love and goodwill with a toxic, febrile blanket of exhaustion. Hunter would steadfastly utilize weather as a character itself, inserting climatic changes to these stories to enrich and enhance the atmosphere. At times the dialogue is as simple as the police interviews – Who, Where, What and the allusive Why. It's our struggle every bit as much as the cops. By the closing pages it's all a frantic chase for the pre-smoking barrel, stopping the .45 slug from finding the next blue shirt. 

Cop Hater is masterfully penned, properly paced and is worthy of the praise heaped on it for half a century.

Get a copy of the book HERE.