6
Mar 09

Crime Writers: Ed McBain

The Brown Wedge3 comments • 205 views

McBain, writing under that name and Evan Hunter (which he changed his name to in 1952, from Salvatore Lombino), is the only writer by whom I have read over a hundred books, and that is likely to remain true for a long time, maybe permanently. And I’ve not read any by five of his other pseudonyms, nor any of his poetry, plays, autobiographies, children’s books or screenplays (I have seen a few, notably The Birds). He was crazily productive: 25 books and some stories from 1956-1959 was his peak.

He’s best known for his 87th Precinct stories, 57 books spanning almost 50 years, though Detective Steve Carella and his fellow detectives in an analogue of NYC don’t age at that pace. These defined the police procedural, and are the model for most modern police TV shows, to one degree or another. They are short on heroics and car chases and genius detectives, long on professional cops doing their jobs, interviewing and following up leads. They are elevated well above the routine by his superb use of and descriptions of weather, and crackling and convincing dialogue, vital in the long interviews. He also reproduces documentation regularly.

His other lengthy series centres on Florida lawyer Matthew Hope: there are thirteen of these. To be honest, they are pretty much private eye novels, as there is very little in the way of courtroom action and legal manoeuvring. I like these a little less, though I have still read, I think, all of them.

His Evan Hunter books are often more mainline fiction – The Blackboard Jungle is the most famous. Since they generally aren’t crime books, they are rather outside this. I recommend the McBains, and I’d say start with an early 87th Precinct or two – the later ones, from the ’80s or so, get longer, and there isn’t always the extra content to justify that; he also starts including more sex, and I don’t care for how he handles that. It seems sort of sleazy and unpleasant. The early novels are very easy reading and consistently entertaining, and I think most readers develop a quick attachment to them and the characters.

Comments

  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 7 Mar 2009 #

    Thanks for keeping this series going Martin. You’ve aroused my interest in McBain – any specific titles you would recommend as a way in?

  2. 2
    Tracer Hand on 7 Mar 2009 #

    “Ice” is what I started with, and it’s a great one.

    Those long interviews – usually with two cops warily circling their subject, often pretending not to be interested – God, I could read a whole book just of those.

  3. 3
    Martin Skidmore on 8 Mar 2009 #

    Yes, Ice is a good one, and as it happens it was one of the first few I read, too. Still, I’d say just about any of the early 87ths are more or less equally good. If there are a few to choose from, I think I would see if he talks about weather on the first page, and when you find one where he does, go for that.

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