Ed McBain was a pseudonym of Evan Hunter (October 15, 1926 – July 6, 2005) . This pseudonym was used for his series of novels about the cops in the 87th Precinct in Isola (a thinly disguised New York). Evan Hunter was born Salvatore Lambino; he legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952. Per Mike Ashley, in The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction: "The name Ed McBain was concocted to cover the author's less 'sophisticated' material, keeping his more significant pen-name, Evan Hunter, for serious mainstream novels."
I had read nothing at all by Ed McBain until about a year ago, when I read Cop Hater. I enjoyed that novel, which was fortunate since I had already purchased over ten books in the series in anticipation of reading the whole series ... eventually.
The 87th Precinct books give the details of an investigation, but along the way we get glimpses into the policemen's lives. The policemen involved seem like real people, not idealized versions of detectives. Some are bullies, some are more dedicated to looking for the truth. Throughout The Mugger, McBain intersperses items from the investigation: fingerprint sheet, police forms, even a map of a crime scene. As the crime is investigated in The Pusher, the complex steps to evaluate the small amounts of usable evidence found at a crime scene are described. Yet even though this may seem dry, the result in each case is a very entertaining book that moves at a brisk pace.
I am not a great fan of long doses of descriptive prose in a novel, but some of McBain's descriptive passages are just extraordinary. And the miracle is... he does not overdo them.
Winter came in like an anarchist with a bomb.
Wild-eyed, shrieking, puffing hard, it caught the city in cold, froze the marrow and froze the heart.
The wind roared under eaves and tore around corners, lifting hats and lifting skirts, caressing warm thighs with icy-cold fingers. The citizens blew on their hands and lifted their coat collars and tightened their mufflers. They had been enmeshed in the slow-dying lethargy of autumn, and now winter was upon them, rapping their teeth with knuckles of ice.Both of the books I read were comparatively short in length, each under 160 pages. Reading these two books was like reading one of the longer books I have read recently. I understand that the later books were longer, but I am enjoying these shorter ones while they last.
On a personal note, in the 80's and the 90's, I had a co-worker who loved the 87th Precinct novels. She knew I liked mysteries, and she was always suggesting that I read the latest book he had published. And I was always declining to try the series. Now, I look back and wish I had listened to her. On the other hand, now I have the whole series ahead of me and a lot of books and entertainment to look forward to.
this post to check out other entries for this letter.
Other reviews here:
At Tipping My Fedora, Sergio is reading and reviewing the series in order.
At Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, Keishon reviews The Pusher.
At Confessions of a Mystery Novelist..., Margot puts the spotlight on The Cop Hater.
These books are also submitted for the Vintage Mystery Challenge in the Leave It to the Professionals category, which includes books featuring cops, private eyes, secret service, etc.