12/21/2005 
HAIL TO THE CHIEF 
Ed McBain signs off with the cops of the 87th searching for a serial killer BY BILL BELL 

Come to the mourning bench, light the candles and
whisper a prayer for peace for the sorely missed. Ed McBain
is gone, and with-him - sadly, involun-tarily retired - go
Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Ollie Weeks, Cotton
Hawes, Andy Parker and the rest of the be-reaved crew of
the 87th Precinct.

They live now only in reprints and memory.

They, and their creator, died on July 6, in Weston, Conn.,
where Ed McBain lived as the gifted alter ego of Evan
Hunter, one of the most prolific and ad-mired writers of
crime fiction in the world.

Along the way, he digressed into novels about generation-
al conflict, social issues ("The Blackboard Jungle") and
the human condition ("Strangers When We Meet," about in-
fidelity).

The imperfect cops, the vic-tims and the hustlers,
killers, weirdos, suckers, lawyers and survivors all  make
final appearances in "Fiddlers," the 57th in the series of
87th Precinct stories that began in 1956 with "Cop Hater."

It's a splendid farewell by McBain, who wrote right up to
the end as he battled throat cancer and the debilitations
of three heart at-tacks. He was 78, old by every measure
but creativity and courage.

The story is, as it always was in the pre-cinct, about a
search for a killer by Detective Carella and his fellow
cops in the city that McBain named Isola, a place not
unlike New York. In this case, someone is shooting people
who apparently have nothing in common - a blind violinist,
a retired teach-er, an elderly Catholic priest and so on.
Five people in all. But, the story also is about other
things, and that's why McBain was so special.

Ollie Weeks, a bigot, is fall-ing in love with a Puerto
Rican. Carella and his deaf wife learn that their daughter
is flirting with trouble. Hawes defies con-vention in a
courtship. Above all, there is a motive for the murders
that will make readers wake up in the night and think about
roads taken and not taken.

People who normally do not read crime fiction - good crime
fiction - probably will not know how much work McBain
devoted to research, which, in "Fiddlers," includes
everything from Jewish mourning rituals to the business
details of Korean nail salons. Nor will occasional read-ers
appreciate the way he fitted it all seam-lessly together.

McBain had a special knack for punchy, shorthand dialogue,
which frequently came in the form of transcribed
interrogations. The one that wraps up this case belongs in
a class for serious writers, but then so does much of his
work.

Like many productive authors, from Law-rence Block to
Stephen King, Hunter, in ad-dition to writing as McBain,
used several other names early in his career - Curt Can-
non, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon and Richard Marston. And he
created other memorable characters, notably Matthew Hope, a
defense lawyer wrestling with the demons of self. It is not
easy, saying goodbye to all of them.

McBain could not write a bad line. He owned every inch of
turf in his world, where. the law worked because, for all
their flaws, his characters cared about justice, and where
the moral order prevailed because good, for all its
ambiguities, trumped evil.

And that's not a bad thing to say about a guy who loved to
write, told a good story, enter-tained two generations of
devoted admirers and made a comfortable living at it.
 

 
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