"If love can't conquer all, it's nice to know that an angry woman can make a monkey out of a terrorist." 
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

August 22, 2004 Sunday  

Late Edition - Final

By Marilyn Stasio

In anxious times, trust Ed McBain to send in the Deaf
Man. Ever since he first appeared in ''The Heckler''
(1960), this fiendish criminal has been the scourge of
Steve Carella and his fellow detectives in McBain's 87th
Precinct crime novels. How fiendish is fiendish? In
''Mischief'' (1993), the Deaf Man tried to set off a race riot
in a city ''on the thin edge of explosion.'' In ''Eight Black
Horses'' (1985), which found the Big Bad City in the
middle of a crime wave, his diabolical plan was to blow
up the precinct station house.

Surfacing again, after more than a decade, in HARK!
(Simon & Schuster, $24.95), the Deaf Man is still a holy
terror and more obsessed than ever with his mission to
humiliate Carella and demoralize the entire detective
squad. Thumbing his nose at the security measures of
a city fixated on ''looking for bombs or guns or knives or
tweezers,'' he gleefully skips through transportation
terminals and sashays past armed guards to wander
at will through landmark buildings.

This time, though, the tactics of this malicious
prankster are more cerebral and his criminal objectives
almost civilized. Striking his usual insolent tone, he
sends Carella a series of puzzling notes providing
clues to his covetous designs on two cultural
treasures, the Stradivarius violin that a celebrated guest
soloist is scheduled to play at a concert and the rare
First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays from which
the actor Patrick Stewart will read at a library tribute. But
by the time the cops dope out the messages --
encrypted in anagrams, palindromes and
Shakespearean quotations -- it may be too late to stop
the mischief.

When Carella belatedly deciphers one crucial
anagram, he puts the whole squad on alert, ''because
whenever the Deaf Man put in an appearance, his
people all suddenly began behaving like Keystone
Kops.'' But even working at full strength these cops will
be Kops, hilariously stymied by Shakespearean verse
and beating their brains to summon whatever scraps of
knowledge they picked up in high-school English
classes. Listening to Meyer Meyer free-associate from
''Julius Caesar'' to Donald Rumsfeld, and hearing
Richard Genero's tongue-tied admiration for a line like
''rough winds do shake the darling buds of May'' is a
treat that die-hard fans of the hard-boiled police
procedural should not pass up.

With everyone conscientiously wading through
''Macbeth'' and scanning sonnets, there's no way for the
squad to take on the multiple case assignments that
normally keep this series in a state of perpetual motion.
And except for Fat Ollie Weeks, working his sources in
the 88th Precinct while following a hot lead on the thief
who stole the only manuscript of his novel, there's very
little street action. Instead, McBain has devised a
number of romantic subplots for his detectives, who
function as a kind of resident repertory company and
whose off-duty lives provide the back stories that give
the series its book-to-book continuity.

A few of these personal dramas stand out from the
rest. Carella's inability to celebrate the double wedding
of his mother and his sister while he is still grieving for
his father has psychological complexity. And Ollie
Weeks, who has been softened up by his love for
Patricia Gomez (''Who'd have thunk it?'') finds
compassion in his bigoted heart for the hookers he
used to despise. But even the more conventional
romantic scenarios carry the message that love is the
best way to counter social chaos. The Deaf Man
himself has a girlfriend of sorts, a smart cookie who
calls herself Melissa Summers and is clever enough to
play dumb when the arrogant criminal is expounding on
his own genius. ''Diversion, my dear, it's all diversion,''
he tells her, without realizing she's two steps ahead of
him and working on her own diversionary moves.

If love can't conquer all, it's nice to know that an angry
woman can make a monkey out of a terrorist.


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 Evan Hunter
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