January 29, 2004, Thursday, FIRST EDITION

HEADLINE: Timeless McBain returns more cynical than
ever.  87th Precinct has star turn in 'The Frumious

BYLINE: Deirdre Donahue

The Frumious Bandersnatch is Ed McBain's 53rd novel
about the 87th Precinct. Yet the grand master of the
police procedural certainly hasn't mellowed.  In fact,
this newest installment might be one of his most
delectably cynical, out-and-out corrosive tales since he
started writing the series in 1956.

'Bandersnatch' draws on ambition, big-time
entertainment moguls, the ease of getting phone taps
since 9/11, tracing cellphone calls, the enormous
advances in forgery thanks to computers, and, of
course, crime.

Like the unusual title, which is a phrase Lewis Carroll
invented, the opening is a departure for McBain, who
usually opens with a felony being committed or a
corpse found, not a media gala.  To launch a hot new
talent, a media conglomerate hires a cruise ship to
float around Manhattan.  Young, luscious Tamar
Valaparaiso, age 20, will do an abbreviated
performance of her debut video, which depicts a wood
nymph fending off a rapist.

(Caveat for new readers: McBain spares no one, no
group, no gender, no occupation.  For example, Jonah,
the tall, gorgeous black dancer who plays the attacker,
is gay, and McBain does not hold back on describing
his lisp. But then, the author regularly employs an
acid-dipped pen on everyone, from red-faced
Irish-American FBI agents to lazy cops to dim

At the launch party, the media heavy-hitters rave over
the faux-rape scene until two attackers wearing masks
suddenly appear and kidnap Tamar. Which is not
part of the video.  Later, Tamar will discover that, unlike
in her video, real crimes like rape are not entertaining.
The pro doesn't lecture to make his point.

McBain uses that wonderful flexible quality of elastic
time. His main protagonist, Steve Carella, and the other
members of the 87th Precinct, remain eternally
middle-aged. But McBain updates the series to include
references to J. Lo, Trent Lott's hairstyle, cable TV
babbling know-it-alls and the new coarseness of
people's language.

Reading McBain offers two particular delights: the
appearance of the old favorites -- cops such as the
loyal Arthur Brown, Eileen Burke and black police
surgeon Sharyn Cooke, who delivers the funniest (but
utterly unprintable) line in the book -- and, of course, Fat
Ollie. An outstanding crime solver, Ollie is a glutton for
food and an aspiring pianist but positively reeks with
prejudice toward almost every group. Faithful readers,
however, will see Ollie in an unusual role in this book.

And McBain continues to hone his ability to effortlessly
toss out memorable observations and characters. The
city is a "carnal candyland," he writes.  And an Arab
landlady draped neck to ankle in a black abayah that
"billowed out like the sail of a Sumerian galley" doesn't
mean she can't exude a flirtatious sex appeal with her
snapping eyes and bare, be-ringed feet.

And, of course, in the end, it's not the FBI's elaborate
and expensive surveillance equipment that solves the
crime, it's cops like Carella out on the street, watching,
listening and talking to people.

Don't let the fancy title put you off. This is McBain as
savagely satisfying as a very rare filet mignon.


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