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|LATEST REVIEW ON "HARK!" || |
|" Ed McBain did not quite invent the police procedural. Dashiell Hammett did not invent the private eye novel, either, but he popularized it, and Raymond Chandler then became its greatest practitioner. Mr. McBain both popularized this important literary subgenre and became its greatest practitioner." ***********|| |
| Copyright 2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC|
> All Rights Reserved
> The New York Sun
> October 20, 2004 Wednesday
> SECTION: ARTS & LETTERS; Pg. 18
> LENGTH: 893 words
> HEADLINE: Do You Really Know Who Ed McBain Is?
> BYLINE: By OTTO PENZLER
> On Friday, Ed McBain, the greatest writer of the
police procedural who ever lived, will celebrate his 78th
birthday. He marks the occasion with the publication of
his 55th book in the iconic 87th Precinct series, "Hark!"
(Simon & Schuster, 293 pages, $24.95).
> A police procedural is a mystery solved by cops
employing the normal methodology of a local police
precinct, such as using information supplied by a
> medical examiner, the forensic evidence uncovered
by a police laboratory, stakeouts, wiretaps, tailing
suspects, and, importantly, informants.
> Unlike other mystery stories, in which a detective
such as Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe uses his
powers of observation and deduction to solve a crime,
or in which a private eye uses his tenacity and
toughness in tracking a criminal, procedurals portray
police working in teams, amassing evidence to obtain
a solution. These cops share the dangers and the
responsibilities as they work on a case, as well as
sharing the credit when it reaches its conclusion.
> The early years of mystery fiction inevitably saw the
use of the policeman as the hero. Charles Dickens's
Inspector Bucket and Wilkie Collins's Sergeant Cuff, for
example, were major figures in the history of the crime
story. In later years, so were Georges Simenon's Jules
Maigret, Ngaio March's Roderick Alleyn, and, currently,
Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch. But all these
characters worked mainly as individuals, much as if
they were amateur sleuths or private eyes.
The procedural is the only kind of mystery story in which
readers encounter people to whom they can relate in
any realistic way. The idea that a brilliant amateur such
as Ellery Queen would be called in by a baffled police
department to solve a crime is patently absurd. None of
us ever met such a person, nor are we likely to.
> The same is true for private detectives, who behave
fictionally in ways that would certainly find them thrown
in the hoosegow if they tried it in the real world. Few of
us have ever actually met a private eye, much less
heard of one who pulled out a gun or slammed
suspects up against a wall. Pretty much everyone,
however, has seen a beat cop, watched a patrol car roll
by, and seen detectives on television talk about alleged
perpetrators, ongoing investigations, and tentative
> Although the procedural is more realistic than other
types of mystery fiction, the cases we read about are
more interesting than most events in the daily life of a
police department, in which there is tedium, paperwork,
bureaucracy, and one repetitive task after another --
thankfully held to a minimum in their fictional
> Ed McBain did not quite invent the police procedural.
Dashiell Hammett did not invent the private eye novel,
either, but he popularized it, and Raymond Chandler
then became its greatest practitioner. Mr. McBain both
popularized this important literary subgenre and
became its greatest practitioner.
> Mr. McBain, whose real name is Evan Hunter,
already had a successful writing career when he
created the 87th precinct, having produced "The
Blackboard Jungle " in 1954. It became an enormous
success, spurred by the shocking (for its day) movie
that starred Glenn Ford and gave Sidney Poitier his first
> Two years later, Mr. McBain published "Cop Hater,"
set in the fictional city of Isola, which is clearly, in most
respects, a slightly skewed New York. It was
his groundbreaking decision to make the 87th precinct
-- the whole squad -- the hero of the book and its
sequels. Although the superb Steve Carella quickly
moved himself to center stage, various novels have
featured Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Cotton Hawes, and,
more recently, Fat Ollie.
> In "Hark!" Hawes is the target of a sniper while
Carella, Meyer, and the others attempt to make sense
of a series of notes delivered to the eight-seven
by their old nemesis, the Deaf Man. The early notes are
anagrams, designed to let the detectives know he's
back and planning more mischief. Each of the
later notes is a quotation from Shakespeare,
essentially letting the boys know his plans and
challenging them to figure them out and stop him -- if
> The Deaf Man, unnamed throughout the series, has
made frequent appearances, always with impeccable
plans that the squad somehow thwarts, mainly via the
medium of good luck. He is a chilling figure, but Mr.
McBain gives him ample scenes in which to behave
almost like a normal person. This makes him that
much more dangerous. Finding a serial criminal in
literature as realistic and as frightening as the Deaf
Man is as rare as carpaccio.
> A little inside joke should be pointed out, because
it's too cute to miss. A quote from the Bard mentions
sparrows, so one of the cops asks the others if
they saw that movie Hitchcock wrote. "Hitchcock didn't
write it," Kling responds. "Then who did?" "Daphne
Somebody." The fact is, Evan Hunter wrote the
screenplay for "The Birds," which was based on a story
by Daphne Du Maurier.
> Mr. McBain loves words and wordplay, and never
has he used them to better advantage in this thriller. He
does, of course, have the advantage of using
Shakespeare's words to help him out, and this will
prove a challenge worthy of the smartest reader, and
worth the effort. It all makes sense, if you have the
intelligence and the patience to work it out.
> I, of course, remained baffled throughout.
> LOAD-DATE: October 20, 2004