- Sadie When She Died (1972) – 3.5*
- Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man (1973) – 4*
- Hail to the Chief (1973) – 4*
- Bread (1974) – 4*
- Blood Relatives (1975) – 3.5*
Still working my way through the numerous 87th Precinct books. As I say every time I do one of these reviews, batches of five are just about right. Enough time to get into the groove of the characters, but not so much as to burn out on them, as they do have a lot of stylistic similarities.
Sadie When She Died was probably my least favorite out of the batch. It just ended up being a really sad story, with a broken marriage at its center. While the pacing was good, it was definitely a downer. Although I have to admit that most of McBain’s books aren’t exactly upbeat. He loves to go off on tangents, little side stories of life in the city, and those side stories are invariably depressing.
Let’s Hear It For the Deaf Man was my favorite out of the bunch, because the Deaf Man is such a fantastic villain. I read somewhere that McBain said the reason he didn’t write more Deaf Man stories was because the Deaf Man is smarter than he is and he just couldn’t come up with clever enough plots haha But this one was done really well. Someday, after I’ve read all these, I may go back through and just read the handful of titles with the Deaf Man at the center.
In Hail to the Chief McBain takes a slightly different pattern. Part of the story is the normal third person narration with the detectives slowly closing in on the solution. Alternating chapters are first person from the police interview with the president of the gang at the heart of the mystery. During these sections, the president explains his motives and methods, justifying it all by explaining how he wanted the “war” between the gangs to be over – so that meant that his orders to murder various people were actually altruistic in nature. The pacing in this one was excellent, and I actually always enjoy McBain’s gang stories (although many reviewers seem to find those the most “purple prose”-ish). As he always does, McBain thoughtfully explores why gangs exist, along with various aspects of racism and poverty.
While I really enjoyed Bread, it was more of a traditional mystery style than McBain’s books often are, and there were a lot more names to track than usual. At the heart of almost every crime is a desire for money, and that concept is definitely on display here with lots of back-stabbing and betrayal among various groups.
Finally, Blood Relatives was a good mystery, but I’m always really weirded out by anything vaguely incestuous, and there was a relationship between cousins in this one that felt extra weird because one of the cousins had been orphaned and come to live with her aunt and uncle as a young girl, so the relationship felt more like it was between siblings, if that makes sense. Still, the pacing was really good here.
As always, it’s the gang of detectives that run the 87th that make these books so enjoyable. I’m more in love with Carella than ever, having a huge soft spot for Kling and Meyer, and Cotton Hawes has totally grown on me. McBain has a genuine respect for law enforcement and the work they put in to bring about justice, and presents their struggles well. While these aren’t the best books in the world, I’m finding them enjoyable in small batches. It’s also fun to see how McBain’s writing is changing over time. There are 55 books in the series, the first of which was published in 1956 and the last of which was published in 2005. That’s a pretty big swath of time, with a great deal of social change both in society in general and within law enforcement, so it is rather fun to watch it evolving.
These aren’t exactly books I recommend in general, but if you like detective stories, McBain definitely helped set the tone of the genre of more realistic, gritty, Dragnet-y stories.
Pingback: Rearview Mirror // February 2020 | The Aroma of Books