- Killer’s Payoff (1958) – 4*
- Lady Killer (1958) – 3.5*
- Killer’s Wedge (1959) – 3*
- ‘Til Death (1959) – 4*
- King’s Ransom (1959) – 3.5*
I read the first five books of this classic series in early April, and this set of five towards the end of the month (yes, I’m a bit behind on reviews as usual haha). With a total of 55 books to read, I decided chunks of five was the way to go, and so far that feels about right. These are pretty short, snappy reads (usually only around 150 pages), so reading five at a time gets me into the groove without getting too repetitive.
As with most series, these have their ups and downs, but on the whole I am really enjoying them. McBain has a wry sense of humor, and for the most part writes likable characters that may have problems or weaknesses, but overall make me want them to win. The series focuses on the entire group of detectives, although various ones are more prominent and various stories.
Killer’s Payoff and Til Death were my two favorites out of this batch – Till Death probably edges a little bit into the lead. In that book, one of the detective’s sisters is getting married – and the groom-to-be gets a threatening message on the wedding morning. The detective invites several of his buddies from the precinct to attend the festivities, and the whole story is a bit of a delightful dashing around (although one characters dies that really made me super sad!). In Killer’s Payoff, there’s an excellent blackmail angle, although the main detective in that one is single and sort of sleeps his way through the book with various women, which felt a little awkward (although not at all graphic).
Lady Killer and King’s Ransom were fairly average but enjoyable entries to the series. In Lady Killer the precinct gets a message that The Lady is going to die at 8:00 that night… except they literally have no idea who The Lady is. The pacing is really good with the impending deadline, and McBain lets us get some glimpses of the murderer-to-be’s activity to that the reader knows the message is for real and not a hoax, as the precinct can’t help but wonder if it is. King’s Ransom is more of a thoughtful book, a lot more about the people involved rather than the detectives themselves.
I felt that Killer’s Wedge was the weakest of the bunch, although I liked the one side of the plot – a woman walks into the precinct and holds everyone hostage, enraged that her husband died in prison and completely blaming one of the detectives for the death. She wants to kill the detective she hold accountable, except he isn’t there yet. So she keeps everyone else hostage until his arrival. Meanwhile, that detective is investigating an apparent suicide across town – except he isn’t convinced it’s a suicide. There were a few fairly large weak spots in this book for me. One was the suicide mystery itself – the whole idea is that the man has to have committed suicide because of being in the locked room. But the detective has three sons as his suspects… but never seems to think that may the three of them were working together (i.e. one gets locked in with the old man and kills him, and then the other two break down the door). Meanwhile, back at the precinct, I found myself quite disappointed in the apathetic attitude of the cops being held hostage – I guess they just seem to think if they sit there, the detective will come in, the lady will kill him, and then everyone gets to go home?? There seemed to be a very “oh well” vibe from them that aggravated me to no end and really made me think quite a lot less of them as men!
As you can see, these were published in the 1950’s (and into the 60’s I’m assuming, although I haven’t gotten that far yet), and it’s always fun to me to see little bits of our past culture that no one really remembers or thinks about now. For instance in one of the books, the way that they trace a suspect’s travels is because before credit cards, you could get a credit book from a specific gas station brand (e.g. Marathon or Gulf) and then every time you fill up, it gets marked in your book and then they send you a bill at the end of the month. So the detectives were able to find out what gas station this guy used, and then find his credit records to see which gas stations he visited on his trip and thus determine the general area he visited! I had never even heard of the gas station credit system, so that alone was quite intriguing to me.
Overall, this series has been quite enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the next batch. My only real problem is that half of these are only available as large print editions at the library, and while I don’t like reading tiny print (my eyes really aren’t that great), when I’m reading large print I feel like all I am doing is turning pages and not getting anywhere! Still, I’m interested to see where the series heads, and what else happens in the personal lives of the detectives (one of them got married in one of the first books, and now just found out that his wife is pregnant, so how fun is that??). They’re definitely the kind of books that you can read independent of one another if you just want to grab one at random and go, but reading them in order is building a lot of fun and interesting background between the main characters.
If you’re looking for some quick, snappy, slightly politically-incorrect mysteries, I definitely recommend these.