Ed McBain

87th Precinct Series - a team of policemen, usually including Steve Carella,
set in "Isola," which is a thinly disguised New York City


"Hark!"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale OCT 12, 2004)

The name he’d used on the job was Sonny Sanson. Sonny for “Son’io,’ which in Italian meant “I am.” The sanson was for “Sans son,” which in French meant, “without sound.” I am without sound. I am deaf. Maybe.

At long last, Ed McBain brings back the “Deaf Man,” last seen in Mischief (1993), to antagonize Steve Carella and the rest of the 87th Precinct in this 54th book in this long running and rewarding series. I have been really looking forward to another Deaf Man book and this book certainly lives up to my expectations, although I came away a little disappointed with the thought that this could be the last. This is not a spoiler, but just a concern about how much longer a series that has lasted for nearly 50 years will continue.

One of the things that McBain typically includes in a Deaf Man story are pictures, newspaper cutouts, drawings, etc. that the Deaf Man sends to the 87th Precinct to give them clues that he assumes they will be too dumb to understand until he has finished taking whatever he plans to steal. In Hark!, McBain includes lots of clues, some in the form of an anagram or other puzzle and others excerpts from plays. Here is the first of the clues that was sent to Steve Carella with a name above the return address of Adam Fen:

WHO’S IT, ETC.

A DARN SOFT GIRL

O, THERE’S A HOT HINT!

The Deaf Man sends several more notes to Steve Carella and then somewhat later, he begins to send him different notes that appear to be from plays. The first one ends with another note:

I’M A FATHEAD, MEN!

The note also shows a picture of a man picking up rags. This finally leads to the following excerpt which also shows McBain’s masterful, realistic and usually very funny dialogue:

“Who the hell is that supposed to be?” Parker asked.

“Looks like a rag picker,” Byrnes said. “You have rag pickers in your neighborhood?”

“We called him the Rags Man,” Brown said, nodding.

“Why would he be sending us a picture of a rag picker?” Meyer asked.

“No, Artie’s got it,” Carella said. “It’s a rags man. Oh, Jesus it’s a rags man!”

They all looked at him.

He seemed about to have a heart attack.

“It’s an anagram!” he said.

“Huh?” Genero said.

“An anagram, an anagram, a rags man! That’s an anagram for anagrams!”

All at once, the letters under the note’s poetry seemed to spring from the page, I’M A FATHEAD, MEN, leaping into the air before Carella’s very eyes, rolling and tumbling in random order, I A F M H A T D E A N M E, until at last they fell into place in precisely the order Adam Fen had intended.

I AM THE DEAF MAN!

“Shit,” Carella said, “he’s back.”

So begins another battle of wits between the Deaf Man (ADAM FEN!) and the 87th Precinct detectives. The Deaf Man continues to give more clues and the 87th Precinct always seem to be a step behind. As in all Deaf Man books, the reader knows more than the 87th, but not everything that the Deaf Man is planning so solving the puzzle is also something the reader can try.

One thing that did bother me in this book is that the items did not always seem as copies of what the 87th Precinct saw, but rather just different size and type of fonts from a computer software program. This took away a little from what I’m used to seeing. In addition, the publishers seemed lazy when they were showing a forged signature that just used scripted font instead of actual handwriting. I expect a little more than that from a publisher charging $24.95.

As in all books of the series, McBain continues minor story lines for the members of the 87th Precinct that are both work and personal related, including Bert Kling’s now somewhat stressed relationship with Deputy Chief Surgeon Sharyn Cooke. Cotton Hawes relationship with Channel Four newswoman Honey Blair also features some confrontation between the two of them. Of course one of my favorite minor characters, the 88th Precinct’s Ollie Weeks continues his still happy relationship with policewoman Patricia Gomez.

The most significant personal story line that has been going on over several books is the remarriage of Steve Carella’s mother which is to take place at the same time as the marriage of Steve’s sister (to the lawyer who was unsuccessful in getting a guilty verdict for Steve’s father’s murderer). These dual marriages are a definite stress on Steve’s life. As I mentioned in my review of The Frumious Bandersnatch, these side storylines are really for the faithful fans of the series, but they should encourage new readers to search out the older books in the series.

McBain is still committed to continuing this series and presumably has finished FIDDLERS, the next book in the series. (In his July 19, 2004 Newsletter, he said he planned to finish it by the end of July.) McBain has also started a new “Women in Jeopardy” series, an alphabetical series that is scheduled for a debut in January 2005 with Alice in Jeopardy. He is also planning another Evan Hunter book, an amazing writing pace for a man who has been publishing books for 50 years.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 37 reviews
(back to top)

"The Frumious Bandersnatch "

(reviewed by Chuck Barksdale FEB 22, 2004)

The Frumious Bandersnatch features a return to the lead for Steve Carella and a return to the great characteristics of the long running 87th Precinct series created by Evan Hunter (as Ed McBain) in 1956. In this 53rd book in this great and still fresh series, detectives Carella and Cotton Hawes are called in to investigate the kidnapping of Tamar Valparaiso, a 20 year old singer who is about to issue her first album and first single, The Frumious Bandersnatch. (Fans of Lewis Carroll will recognize (or guess) that the Frumious Bandersnatch is from a Jabberwocky line found in Through the Looking Glass.)

Tamar is kidnapped by two masked men while on board a luxury yacht celebrating the release of the new CD and the re-enactment of the video of the soon to be hit single. The kidnapping is witnessed by many people on board and is taped by a Channel Four cameraman, with newswoman Honey Blair in attendance. Not surprisingly, the kidnapping is big news and the sale of the just released CD and single are significant.

Although Carella and Hawes and a few others in the 87th Precinct conduct the initial investigations, Barney Loomis, the CEO and owner of Bison Records, the label issuing Valparaiso's album, calls in the FBI. However, Loomis insists that Carella stay on the case as part of "The Squad," the Joint Task Force with the FBI. Carella is not exactly welcomed and he does not really enjoy working with the men, including police lieutenant-detective "Corky" Corcoran who Carella first met when the two were at the Police Academy, over twenty years previous. (McBain has had to rearrange the history of the characters somewhat over the years as all of the characters would have long been retired if they had aged at the same pace as real time.) Carella feels like an unnecessary part of the team and soon tires of his role.

Kellie Morgan, a woman and girlfriend of one of the men who kidnapped Tamar, is also part of the kidnapping team. The three of them keep Tamar blindfolded, restrained and locked in a closet while they negotiate the ransom with Barney Loomis. Tamar does eventually remove her blindfold and sees the unmasked Kellie, much to Kellie's dismay. While the men negotiate the trade for Tamar and recovery of the ransom, Kellie watches Tamar. This leads to much tension and the eventual competition between the Joint Task Force and the 87 th Precinct to find the kidnappers and Tamar.

Realistic and well-written dialogue is a part of any McBain story as in this excerpt with the three kidnappers right after Tamar sees Kellie.

"Oh, shit!" she said, and fumbled the padlock into the hasp, and snapped it shut again. "Ave," she yelled, "she saw me! Oh, Jesus, Ave, she saw me!" and went running into the kitchen.

The two men were sitting at a small round table near the window, eating the pizza Cal had brought back from the local Pizza Hut.

"What do you mean?" Avery asked.

"I opened the door, she was looking at me."

"So what'd you do?"

"Slammed the door shut."

"So it was just a glimpse, right?"

"But she saw me," Kellie said, more softly now, like a child trying to explain to her parents that the monster under the bed actually did exist. "She'll be able to identify me. Later. When we let her go."

"She won't remember what you looked like. It was just a glimpse, am I right?"

"Yes, but."

"We'll put on the masks. Don't worry, it'll be okay. It was just a glimpse."

"What'd she do?" Cal asked. "Get the blindfold off?"

"I opened the closet, she was looking at me with her eyes wide open," Kellie said, nodding.

"We'll wear the masks from now on," Avery said.

One of the other things that makes McBain so great is his use of humor in what would otherwise be very tense and dark situations. This excerpt, not really related to the story, shows one way McBain adds humor to his stories. If you don't find this funny, you may not like McBain.

The moderator was a man named Michael Owens, who was familiarly called "Curly" Owens by his colleagues because he happened to be bald. This reverse spin was something called "irony," a favorite figure of speech practiced in English-speaking countries where it was thought clever to express a meaning directly contrary to that suggested by the words themselves. Curly was, in fact, the very opposite of hirsute, his condition exacerbated by daily shavings and waxings that gave his head the appearance of an overripe melon.

Typical of the series, McBain adds minor story lines for the members of the 87 th Precinct that are both work and personal related, including Bert Kling's ongoing relationship with Deputy Chief Surgeon Sharyn Cooke. Cotton Hawes meets and starts a relationship with Channel Four newswoman Honey Blair. In addition, a prominent portion of the book, unrelated to the kidnapping, features the beginning of a relationship between the 88 th Precinct's Ollie Weeks and policewoman Patricia Gomez. McBain's ongoing love with Weeks, the fat, bigoted, but successful detective, is an enjoyable and funny addition in this more limited appearance instead of the starring role in Fat Ollies' Book . These side storylines are really for the faithful fan of the series, but should also lead the new readers to search out the older books in the series.

McBain has committed to continuing this series at an even more significant rate than his past average of about one a year. He just finished Hark due in August , which features the return of the Deaf Man, last seen in Mischief. The books featuring the Deaf Man have always been my favorite and McBain hopes (and jokingly pleads to his fans through his email newsletter) that this book will return him to the bestseller list for the first time since Kiss in 1992. McBain has also started a new series, called the "Women in Jeopardy," an alphabetical series that is scheduled for a debut in January 2005 with Alice in Jeopardy.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 51 reviews

 

(back to top)

"Fat Ollie's Book"

(reviewed by Chuck Barksdale APR 20, 2003)

Fat Ollie's Book is another solid effort in the long running 87th Precinct series created by Evan Hunter (as Ed McBain) in 1956. In this 52nd book in the never disappointing series, Fat Ollie Weeks, actually a police detective of the 88th Precinct (of the fictional city of Isola), takes a lead role in investigating both the murder of Lester Henderson, a city councilman, as well as the theft of the only copy of the manuscript of his just completed first novel, Report to the Commissioner. Weeks requests and obtains the assistance of members of the 87th Precinct since the councilman lived in their precinct.

Read excerptOliver Wendell Weeks (Fat Ollie behind his very large back) has been a minor character in many of the books in the series and has been given an even more significant presence in recent books in the series. Weeks is a loud mouthed, bigoted, obnoxious, slob who somehow is likeable. He really seems to dislike everyone but himself and as long as you are not offended, the scenes he's in are often really funny. In this excerpt, Ollie is asking the 87th Precinct's Detective Steve Carella for assistance while they eat at a diner.

"What is it you'd like me to do?" Carella asked.

He was watching Fat Ollie eat, an undertaking of stupendous proportions to anyone not himself a glutton. Ollie had ordered three hamburgers to start, and was devouring them with both hands and a non-stop mouth, consuming simultaneously a huge platter of fries with ketchup, and drinking his second chocolate milk shake, a perpetual motion, eating, drinking, slurping, slobbering, dripping, incessant ingestion machine.

"I want you to go up Smoke Rise," Ollie said, signaling to the waitress, "talk to the councilman's widow, see you can find out did he have any enemies besides the usual suspects…yes, darling, here's what I'd like if you could be so kind," he said to the waitress. "Bring me another shake, that's chocolate, and another hamburger, and that apple pie-is it apple?-looks good, too, with some vanilla ice cream on it, please, make it two scoops, is it apple?"

"Actually, it's strawberry peach," the waitress said, looking already weary at twelve-thirty in the afternoon, but Ollie appreciated women who appeared beaten and defeated.

And a little later in this scene:

"Pierce says the shots came from the wings. The other guy--his name is Chuck Mastroiani, one of your paisans," Ollie said, and grinned as if he were telling a dirty joke, "says the shots came from the balcony. Neither of them know Shinola from bow-waves, they were prob'ly talking about muzzle reports. Third guy, this young college twerp, was actually sitting in the balcony, which is maybe why he told me the shots came from downstairs. Wherever the shots came from…"

"How many?" Carella asked.

"Six. Ballistics says they were fired from a .32 Smith & Wesson, which means the shooter emptied the gun at him. Betokens rage, mayhap? Leading back to the possibility that a jig done it-oops, forgive me, I know you don't appreciate slang."

"Some people might consider your 'slang' racist," Carella said.

"Pip, pip, my good fellow," Ollie said, trying to imitate a British member of Parliament, but sounding instead like either W. C. Fields or Al Pacino. "There's a vast difference between politically incorrect and being racist."

"Explain the difference to Artie Brown sometime."

"Actually, Brown's a good cop," Ollie said. "For a Negro."

"Explain 'Negro' to him, too."

"Steve, don't bust my chops," Ollie said. "I saved your goddamn life."

"Twice, don't forget."

"Don't forget is right."

"I still want to take a look at that hall," Carella said.

Weeks, Carella, and other members of the 87th Precinct, work together and separately to find clues into the Councilman's murder. McBain adds a few other minor story lines for the members of the 87th Precinct that are both work and personal related. Eileen Burke, a former lover of Bert Kling, joins the Precinct, creating some tension within the department. This side storyline as well as a few others are both interesting to the faithful fan of the series and perhaps a bit confusing to the new or occasional series reader, as they may appear disjointed. However, bringing back characters and issues after not discussing them for several books is to me what makes long running series work. The subtle reminders in this book were enough for me, but again the non-faithful may not appreciate these moments.

Although I've enjoyed Fat Ollie's presence in the other books he's appeared in, I found myself tiring of his too significant presence in this book. Weeks is a humorous foil for Carella; Carella should not be a minor character to Weeks. Even though in the end, Weeks is a good detective, his bigoted obnoxious ways wear thin in this book and I hope McBain puts him on the shelf for another few books. Bring back the Deaf Man!!!

I have now read every book in this series and everything else that has been issued under the Ed McBain name, as well as many of the books published as written by Evan Hunter. Although I've struggled through the occasional, now dated Hunter novel, I've not been disappointed once by McBain. Fat Ollie's Book, although still very enjoyable, is probably one of the weaker efforts because of the significant presence of Weeks. Fans of McBain and Weeks will not be disappointed, but I certainly wouldn't recommend this as the first McBain book to someone who has not read this series before. With 52 books to choose in this series, many of them still in print, a lot of good reading is available. Of course, for me, the search (and eventual find) for the missing out-of-print books in a series is almost as good as reading them. So start searching, but don't forget to read them.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 52 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Fat Ollie's Book at MostlyFiction.com



(back to top)

Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

The 87th Precinct Novels:

** "Deaf Man" novels

Women in Jeopardy series:

The Matthew Hope Series Novels:

Other Novels by Ed McBain:

Novels written as Evan Hunter:

Written as Richard Marsten:

  • Rocket To Luna (1953)
  • Danger: Dinosaurs! (1953)
  • Runaway Black (1954)
  • Murder In The Navy (1955) (later published as Death Of A Nurse by Ed McBain - 1968)
  • So Nude, So Dead (1956) (Originally published as The Evil Sleep by Evan Hunter in 1952)
  • Vanishing Ladies (1957)
  • The Spiked Heel (1957)
  • Even The Wicked (1958)
  • Big Man (1959)

Written as Curt Cannon:

  • I Like 'Em Tough (short stories) (1958)
  • I'm Cannon - For Hire (1958)

Written as Hunt Collins:

  • Cut Me In (1954)
  • Tomorrow And Tomorrow (1956)

Written as Ezra Hannon:

  • Doors (1975)

Written as John Abbott:

Movies from Books (all 87th Precinct):

  • Cop Hater (1958)
  • The Mugger (1958)
  • The Pusher (1960)
  • High and Low (1963) (based on King's Ransom)
  • Without Apparent Motive (1972)
  • Fuzz (1972)
  • Blood Relatives (1978)
  • 87th Precinct (1995)

 

(back to top)

Book Marks:

 

(back to top)

About the Author:

Ed McBainEd McBain is the first American to receive the Diamond Dagger, the British Crime Writers Association's highest award. He also holds the Mystery Writers of America's prestigious Grand Master Award. He has written more than eighty novels, writing under several names, but most famously as Evan Hunter and Ed McBain. (These are both pseudonyms, his real name is Salvatore Lombino, born in 1926. Other pseudonyms include John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon and Richard Marsten.)

As Ed McBain, he is the author of the 87th Precinct novels, the longest, the most varied, and possibly the most popular crime series in the world. These novels are about a team of policemen, usually including Detective Steve Carella, and are set in an "imaginary city" but is assumed by most to be a thinly dissguised New York City.

Under his own name -- Evan Hunter -- he has enjoyed a writing career that has spanned almost five decades, from his first novel, The Blackboard Jungle, in 1954, to the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

He married Dragica Dimitrijevic in 1997, his third wife. He has 3 sons and 1 stepdaughter from his previous marriages.

Ed McBain died at age 78 in July 2005.

MostlyFiction.com About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014 MostlyFiction.com