There are lots of crime and thriller writers whose work I love: Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, George Pelecanos, Colin Dexter, Raymond Chandler, to name just a few. But there is always one I rank above all others, and that is Ed McBain.
I first picked up one of McBain’s 87th Precinct novels when I was a teenager, and I was instantly hooked. There was so much that was different about it from other crime novels. From that point on, I made it my mission to track down and read every single one in the series. They now occupy pride of place on my bookshelves, where they are arranged in chronological order, from ‘Cop Hater’ (published in 1956) through to ‘Fiddlers’, which appeared in 2005, the year of McBain’s death. I have read all of these books several times.
So what made the 87th Precinct series so innovative? First of all, there was the obvious attention to detail when it came to police procedure, down to illustrations of actual police crime reports. Well, I say ‘actual’, but in fact the books are set in a fictionalised version of New York. The city itself is never named, although the station house is located in a borough called ‘Isola’, equivalent to Manhattan.
Another difference was in the protagonists. Whereas most other writers of the time were basing their stories on a single detective, perhaps with a sidekick, McBain was skilfully directing an ensemble cast. Yes, the primary focus was on Detective Second Grade Steve Carella, but there was also a good deal of seamless head-hopping to other detectives in the squad. Notable among these were Bert KIing, Andy Parker, Lieutenant Byrnes, Ollie Weeks, and Meyer Meyer, whose father named him that way as a joke.
I asked David Jackson for his favourite crime authors/books. His guest post reveals a love for Ed McBain's brilliant series.
Guest post by David Jackson
Such humour is another reason why I became addicted to those books. They are permeated with a dry wit and sarcasm that had me laughing out loud at times. I know a few police officers in real life, and without exception they have a strong sense of humour. I think they probably couldn’t survive in the job for very long without some light-hearted (often morbid) banter. To me, police procedurals that don’t incorporate this element simply fail to convince.
What else can I say? The plots are clever and carefully constructed; the dialogue is snappy; the characters, even the minor ones, are convincing; the pace is fast. McBain had no qualms about having his detectives solve crimes through sheer hard work and good luck; for the most part there were no sudden flashes of insight such as might be granted to the likes of Sherlock Holmes.
And then, of course, there is the Deaf Man. First introduced in ‘The Heckler’, the Deaf Man was to become the arch nemesis of the 87th squad. Like the city itself, we never learnt his real name, but his dastardly schemes were always grand and ingenious, and he always got away. I remember, when the series was in progress, longing for the next book to be another Deaf Man episode.
All writers have their influences. I, for one, know that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the late Ed McBain, not only for the many hours of reading pleasure he gave me, but also for the way in which he helped to shape my writing.
David Jackson's new thriller HOPE TO DIE is out April 6th 2017, and it's a 5 star read!