Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Killer’s Choice – Ed McBain

©1958 Dell, New York

Ed McBain. The name strikes a chord in the hearts of mystery lovers everywhere. Of course, we know that it’s one of the more notable pseudonyms for celebrated novelist Evan Hunter. Still, along with the name our minds jump to the 87th Precinct.

Killer’s Choice is one of McBain’s 87th Precinct stories, and it is an excellent example of why the author enjoyed celebrity as one of the foremost crafters of the police procedural.

The book opens at the crime scene involving the murder of Anne Boone and the wanton destruction of the liquor store where she worked. It is easy to get lost in the pages of the story while following the detectives of the 87th squad. Carella and Kling question suspect after suspect. Among them are the boss, the ex-husband, and a variety of boyfriends. Throw into the mix a green transfer from the much more genteel 30th with a crazy moniker like Cotton Hawes who must redeem a blunder by finding the punk who killed fellow detective Havilland and you have great mystery reading.

Finding Annie’s killer turns out to be a chore that involves a variety of the bulls of the 87th because the suspects’ alibis are air-tight, and with every new suspect we discover a new Annie Boone.

Once or twice the dialogue slows down because the book was written at another time, but generally the read is very forthright. McBain shows why people love his police procedurals with just the right amount of repetition and just the right amount of personality. Typical of the descriptive passage is the set-up of Stewart City:

Stewart City had been named after British royalty. It was a compact little area of Isola, running for perhaps three square blocks midtown, three square blocks that hugged the curve of the River Dix Stewart City had been named after British royalty, and the apartment buildings which faced the river in terraced luxury were indeed royal.

The mystery unfolds pleasantly with just such descriptions and tight concise dialog that includes both interviews of witnesses, suspects and various other characters and the daily banter that occurs between the bulls of the 87th squad room that make life bearable.

Killer’s Choice was my first 87th Precinct novel (though I’ve long wanted to read some of Hunter’s or McBain’s writing), and you can bet it won’t be my last. It’s just entertaining police work. (Four out of five reading glasses.) Though I’ve come late to the precinct and (sadly) McBain shuffled out of his mortal coil, I can relish the fact that I have a whole new set of mysteries to keep me busy when my favorites are between publishing dates.

—Benjamin Potter, December 2, 2008

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