11/11/2005 
LAST DANCE 
NY Times book review By Marlyn Stasio
 
ANYONE who has ever lingered in a club until closing time
has felt that last- chance-to-dance moment "Before the
fiddlers have fled / Before they ask us to pay the bill."
Ed McBain, who died in July, catches that breath of
suspended life in FIDDLERS (Otto Penzler/Harcourt, $25),
the 55th and last novel in his groundbreaking series of
87th Precinct police procedurals.

There is an elegant symmetry to McBain's last dance, which
times its steps to "the bril-liant fiddlers of the 87th
Squad" whose tightly choreographed criminal investigations
do indeed follow a musical structure. The theme is struck
when a serial killer's seemingly random selection of
victims calls to mind the arbitrari-ness of death. The five
killings serve as disso-nant variations on that theme, and
the simulta-neous resolution of the homicides brings this
dark piece to its harmonic conclusion.

The spree starts with the execution-style shooting (two
point-blank shots to the face) of a blind violinist at
Ninotchka, a wine-and-candle-light nightclub for romantic
geezers. Detectives Carella and Meyer catch the case for
the 87th Precinct, which is soon inundated with more of
this grim reaper's handiwork: a 55-year-old sales rep who
supplied manicure salons with nail-care products; a 68-
year-old ("but spry as a goat") college professor; a 74-
year-old priest; and a 73-year-old woman walking her dog.
Ex-cept for the weapon (a 9-millimeter Glock) and method of
execution, no pattern or motive emerges.

Lacking the read-er's perspective on the killer - who
turns out to be a sad case with some legitimate beefs - the
cops concen-trate on getting to know the victims. "There
are people who are ugly when they're young, and they're
still ugly when they're old," one detective shrewdly notes
of a woman who never outgrew her meanness. "Ugly is ugly."

The most endearing quality about McBain's detectives has
always been their ability to uncover the ugliness in human
na-ture without turning ugly themselves. Here, they consult
their partners on domestic mat-ters and argue about issues
that matter to them, like Genero's insistence on finding
out the name of "the dog lady's" golden retriever and
counting the animal as a homicide victim.

Although McBain must have known this would be his last
visit to the squad room, he refrains from tidying up the
precinct house with neat wrap-ups for the individual detec-
tives who make up his collective hero. When the music stops
and the band packs up, every-one is still on the floor -
dancing.
 

 
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