87th Precinct – THE FINAL FIVE BOOKS!!! // by Ed McBain

I honestly don’t know why I originally started reading the 87th Precinct books.  I think maybe they were listed somewhere as classics, and my innate inability to read books out of order meant I had to start at the beginning and work my way through them.  However it happened, I read the first of this series back in April 2018, and FINALLY read books 50-55 in October 2021!!  Breaking them into groups of five actually worked really well for working through this series.  So, here are a few thoughts on the final books, and then some thoughts on the series as a whole.

  • Money, Money, Money
  • Fat Ollie’s Book
  • The Frumious Bandersnatch
  • Hark!
  • Fiddlers

All in all, these ended up all being 4* reads and were a great way to conclude this series ALTHOUGH tragedy struck at the final hour – somehow, I had these written down wrong, and after reading FIFTY-THREE BOOKS in order, I somehow read #55 BEFORE reading #54!! I cannot possibly express to you how aggravated at myself I was! How could I do this?!  It literally made no difference except in my heart, but still!  I’m still mad!

ANYWAY the weirdest part about these last five books was the involvement/attempt at character redemption of Fat Ollie.  He’s one of those background characters who has popped in and out of several books.  He works for another precinct and everyone dislikes him because he’s a racist, sexist jerk.  However, he’s also weirdly good at being a detective.  Suddenly, in these books, McBain tries to somewhat redeem Ollie’s character by having him fall in love with a girl, which makes him start to reassess some of his prejudices.  I had mixed feelings about this.  I actually did feel like Ollie was growing as a person, but I’m also not sure how realistic it was, or even why McBain felt it was necessary to wander away from the detectives in the 87th to focus on Ollie instead.  When I looked at other reviews, there were a lot of complaints about this that basically said Ollie’s character was irredeemable, but I’m not sure I agree with that, either.  I do think people can change – and if we aren’t willing to believe that, to hope for that, to accept it when it happens – then the world really is a rather hopeless place.  So I decided to embrace the efforts to make Ollie a better person and hope that he continues on that path going forward.

All five of these had really good pacing and a bit more humor than a lot of the other books.  They also avoided the gratuitous and weird sex scenes from some of the earlier books, which was great.  McBain still enjoys killing people off more than I’d like him to (especially in The Frumious Bandersnatch – I was SO upset about a character he killed off there!), but they ARE murder mysteries soooo

McBain died the same year that the final book was published (2005) so I’m not sure if he actually intended that to be the final book in the series.  He did leave several of the regular characters in good places – I especially loved watching Carella wrestle with and come to grips with the changes in his family.  There’s a beautiful scene where he finally accepts his stepfather that honestly choked me up a bit.

All in all, I don’t regret reading this series, but I don’t see myself rereading them ALL.  I’ve held on to a few/marked a few that I would reread, but there are also several that I would NEVER read again even if they were the only book around lol  I do think it was worthwhile to see the way that various characters developed and evolved throughout the series.  I loved the way that McBain didn’t age his characters as rapidly as he aged the tech (the series spans 50 years of tech, but only about 15 years of detective-life haha).  The books definitely went through a rough patch in the 80s – my least favorite books were all from that decade – but the final five left me wishing that there were more left to read.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this series, but I did enjoy it and am a bit sorry to part ways with the fellows from the 87th.  I may have to revisit them from time to time… just not all 55 books!!

July Minireviews – Part 2

Over halfway through October already!!! Time is running away so fast!!  I’m still living in July!! :-D

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

And All Through the House by Ed McBain – 2.5* 

As I continue my journey through the 87th Precinct, this short story (with pictures…) was next on the list, although it appears that it was actually published in 1984 rather than the mid-90s, so I’m not exactly sure why it’s listed as book #46.  This was a bit of an odd one, just a short (less than 50 pages) story of a “typical” Christmas Eve at the precinct.  There wasn’t really any kind of plot or story, so it felt a little weird.

Romance by Ed McBain – 3.5* – published 1995

This one is about an actress who gets stabbed… twice!  And since the actress is the main character in a play that is about an actress who gets stabbed, there are a lot of rather ridiculous scenes that read a bit like an Abbott & Castello sketch, which is great fun.  McBain is always mildly preachy in his books and it came through a little heavy-handed in this particular one, which brought down my overall rating of the book, but still a solid installment to the series.

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling – 4* – published 2003

Definitely my least favorite of the series, I’m just not sure why we have to listen to Harry be a jerk for so long.  Rowling makes a few plot decisions in this book that I also don’t like.  However, overall still an enjoyable read.

Nocturne by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1997

This was another one where the main mystery, about an elderly, once-famous concert pianist being murdered, was really good, but the secondary plot, about a prostitute being slaughtered, was a bit much.  For the most part these books aren’t that gruesome, but the murder of that poor girl will stay with me for a long time, and not in a good way.  It just didn’t feel like we needed that much detail for that part of the story.  Still, the rest of the book was a solid read.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis – 5* – published 1956

This is always a really hard book for me to read, and I’ve actually read it the fewest times out of the whole series.  I can understand why Lewis decided to end the series the way he did, but it’s still tough.  Although I will say that, reading this as a child, this was the first time I ever understood wanting to go to Heaven because of it being a beautiful and perfect place rather than just as a better option than hell!

The whole deal with Susan, which I believe has been completely misrepresented and poorly interpreted, always makes me somewhat hesitant to review this one, because how much do I really want to get into this controversy?  Suffice to say that I think it’s clear that Lewis wasn’t trying to say that Susan no longer believed in Narnia because she decided to embrace “womanly” things like makeup and dating, but because she had embraced worldly things to the detriment of her priorities.  Makeup and dating aren’t bad things objectively, but it’s clear from the context that those types of things have become Susan’s driving force.  Susan wasn’t on the train with everyone else, so I personally believe that the deaths of her loved ones helped her to readjust her life.

I actually wrote a little piece on this on tumblr wayyy back in the day – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/105298215925/can-you-explain-the-susan-pevensie-post-the and when I was looking that one up, I found another post that I really liked – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/129939476895/just-to-clarify – that summarizes why Gaiman’s “The Problem With Susan” just absolutely misses the ENTIRE point.

Sons of Pemberley by Elizabeth Adams – 3.5* – published 2020

Basically, this AU of P&P explores what would have happened if Darcy’s mother hadn’t died when Georgianna was born.  Adams gives us just bucketloads of extra characters, which while fun, also made this story extremely bulky and somewhat confusing, especially when she works both backward and forward in time AND decides multiple characters should have the same name from different generations – there are at LEAST two characters for almost every name, which really doubled-down on the confusion aspect.  Adams also takes pretty much every unlikable “villain” character from the original and gives them a backstory that makes them understandable and a forward-story that makes them redeemable, which is nice but… also means the entire story is somewhat boring.  I did enjoy this one, and recommend it to people who enjoy a good P&P variation, but it’s not one I see myself revisiting.

The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1999

Overall, once McBain got through the rather dreadful 80s entries, the series really improved.  Most of the 90s books were done really well without nearly as much gratuitous (and bizarre) sex.  I also really appreciate when he would have a plot line for one of the detectives and then follow it through in the background of multiple books – here, we finally see the main conclusion of what happened when Carella’s dad was murdered a few books ago, although McBain makes sure to still show us how Carella continues to work through his grieving process over the next several books after this one as well.

March Minireviews – Part 1

Greetings, friends! Here I am with more reviews from the way-back. Let’s see how good my memory/notes happen to be!!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Books 41-45 of the 87th Precinct Series by Ed McBain

Yes, I’m still working my way through this series. There are only (!) 55 books so I have two batches left!! This group, comprised of five one-word-title stories (Lullaby, Vespers, Widows, Kiss, and Mischief) were a 3.5* average group without anything especially outstanding.  My favorite was Kiss, and my least favorite was Lullaby.  In a weird way, Mischief was the most disappointing, though, because the Deaf Man was the returning villain and it was definitely the worst Deaf Man story yet – jumbled and overly complicated.  This batch (published 1989-1993) continued the trend of weird sex situations, which I find rather bothersome.  Hopefully, as the books move into the 90s, we’ll get over the 80s everything-is-sex motif.  Still, I’ve developed a huge soft spot for the detectives of the 87th and will be a little sad to bid them farewell when I get to book #55.

Meet Me in London by Georgia Toffolo – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always a sucker for a fake relationship trope, and while this one wasn’t anything groundbreaking, it was a nice palette-cleanser in the midst of the gritty 87th Precinct books.  I really appreciate modern romances without explicit sex scenes, so that bumped this one up a little in my ratings even if it was a little slow in spots.

Tonight & Always by Nora Roberts – 2.5*

//published 1983//

It’s rare that I’m disappointed by Nora Roberts, but this was one of those times.  This book was just SO 80s.  The drama was over-the-top, the hero was ridiculously brooding and macho, the heroine was ridiculously independent, several borderline-rapey scenes where the hero grabs the heroine and kisses her into submission, and I spent most of this book just rolling my eyes.  The concluding drama genuinely infuriated me (hint: nothing makes me more angry then women who get pregnant and decide it’s “for the best” to not tell the father), and this is one Roberts book I don’t ever see myself revisiting.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane – 4*

//published 2020//

McFarlane is one of those authors I keep meaning to read since I’m always on the lookout for good romcoms.  I decided to choose this one for my contribution to the next round of the traveling book club.  In the end, I did enjoy this one a lot, but it definitely was more of a novel than a romcom.  It’s one of those books that while I did like it a lot, I’m going to end up talking about the negatives more than the positives, but you’ll have that haha

So basically the main character, Laurie, is devastated when her live-in boyfriend not only breaks up with her – but announces that his new girlfriend is already pregnant.  Because they also work together, Laurie has to see Dan/hear about his new family on the regular.  Through a series of events, she agrees to a fake relationship with another coworker, Jamie, with a convoluted plan of staged pictures and social media posts.  Of course, this is romance, so eventually the fake romance turns into a real one, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The problem with this book is that Laurie and Dan had been together WAY too long to make this a fun and fluffy romance – almost 20 years!  So the majority of the book ended up being about Laurie working through the grief of having such a long-term relationship fall apart, which meant loads of flashbacks to their relationship throughout the years.  I felt like this book was a lot more about Laurie and Dan than it was about Laurie and Jamie.  It gave the whole story a really down tone and also meant it felt incredibly unrealistic for Laurie to be into Jamie so quickly.  McFarlane would spend pages telling us about special moments between Laurie and Dan, about the many times Laurie knew that Dan was “the one,” etc. – but then we’re supposed to turn around and believe that Laurie and Jamie are the ones with something special between them.  The whole book would have been so much more believable (and enjoyable) if Laurie hadn’t been with Dan for so long.  As it was, I was almost uncomfortable with her getting with Jamie so quickly, despite the fact that I shipped the two of them and thought they were a great match.

The overall tone of the book also tends to be really sexist against men.  There were a lot of one-off sentences basically dismissing men as sex-hungry neanderthals, and Jamie and his dad are the only two decent guys to make an appearance.  Literally every other male in the story is a total dick.  Laurie also spends loads of time whining about sexism at work and how the men have it easy and the women have it hard yadda yadda yadda despite the fact that her (male) boss is constantly telling her what an awesome employee she is, frequently stands up for her against anyone who says anything remotely negative about her or her work, brags about her to everyone, and recommends her for promotions.  I just couldn’t really buy the “oppressed woman at work” story when Laurie wasn’t remotely oppressed!  A lot of Laurie’s “problems” came across that way – I realize she’s at a low point in her life, but she’s also just so whiny about everything.  It’s hard to empathize with a character who is successful, makes good money, has a boss who respects her and treats her well, has good and supportive friends, and spends all her time whining about how hard her life is.

BUT despite all that I actually did enjoy this book haha  The parts with Laurie and Jamie were SO fun, their banter was fantastic, and they had great chemistry.  I loved the random set-ups they created, and loved watching them both get over their initial prejudices against each other and come to appreciate the other.  I really wish this book had focused more on the two of them and LOT less on Laurie and Dan and the way their relationship failed.

I’ll definitely be checking out more of McFarlane’s books, and if you don’t mind your romances a little angsty, there’s a lot to enjoy with this one.

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 36-40 // by Ed McBain

  • Ice (1983)
  • Lightning (1984)
  • Eight Black Horses (1985)
  • Poison (1987)
  • Tricks (1987)

I’m still slowly working my way through this series of 55 books in batches of five, which feels about right as they can get a little samey if you read too many at once. The first book in this series was published in 1956, and I’m not in the midst of the 1980s part of the series. While McBain’s characters have aged and changed throughout, they definitely haven’t aged in real time – but the background/technology/procedures have. Somehow McBain makes that all work.

This set of five was quite the rollercoaster, as it included one of my favorites I’ve read yet (Eight Black Horses) and also one of my least-favorites (Lightning). It’s been over a month since I actually read these, so I’m sure you’ll be willing to excuse me if I’m a bit hazy on the details…

Ice was a pretty typical entry with a solid and engaging story and plenty of McBain’s trademark snark. At this point in the series, one of the detectives (Bert Kling) has been in multiple romantic entanglements, all of which have ended in disaster, so when he started dating one of the women from a neighboring precinct, a character who floats in and out and that I actually like, I got a little concerned. Their relationship has gotten a little rocky but at least she’s still alive as of the end of Tricks!

A lot of these books can be rather dark, but Lightning was definitely a contender for the weirdest/creepiest premise so far. Several women have been raped, and each one has been raped more than once – all by the same man. I’m going to completely spoil the reason for this happening, so if you don’t want to know, skip to the next paragraph – but basically it turns out that the perpetrator is strongly prochoice, so he started targeting women who were Catholic and had also donated money to a prolife organization. He raped them more than once because he wanted them to get pregnant so they would have to get an abortion, and thus would realize that their prolife stance was wrong. I just… I don’t even know where to start with the problems in this plotline. Part of it is, of course, that I’m very strongly prolife myself, and despite the fact that the prochoice guy is the villain, it’s obvious that McBain is prochoice as well. So he’s in this weird corner where he has to condemn this guy’s actions, but still defend the guy’s actual beliefs. Of course, the women who do end up getting pregnant by this guy (two, I think) do get abortions because obviously no one who is prolife would actually stick to their prolife beliefs if they were in a situation like carrying a rapist’s baby! The whole story just was completely gross and creepy, and honestly any book that’s entire purpose is to convince people that they should be able to murder their babies isn’t really going to fly with me anyway. So this one was definitely a miss.

However, Eight Black Horses was a total win, and reminded me why I’ve been continuing to read this series. The precinct’s ultimate nemesis, the Deaf Man, is back again, and the whole story is just fantastic.

Once thing that’s definitely changed in these books as we’ve moved into the 80s is that these books are significantly sexier. They’ve always been somewhat that way, but more in a “we can’t really avoid this because this is what life on the streets looks like” kind of way. But this batch of books was definitely more, “oh books should just have random sex scenes and a lot of smutty conversations in them” and I wasn’t a fan. Poison was definitely that way, plus it had this kind of weird ending that left me feeling a little confused about the whole story.

Finally, Tricks brought this set of five full-circle – another solid, engaging entry to the series. I really enjoy the stories where McBain just chooses one night and follows along with all the various detectives as they each track their own case. This one was set on Halloween so it felt very seasonal when I was reading it in late October. While a couple of the story lines were honestly ridiculous, they still felt at least somewhat plausible, which kept everything moving.

All in all, I’m this far now so I think I will finish the series out, but I definitely won’t be reading all of them again. At some point, I’ll probably go back and read all the books with the Deaf Man in them as those have definitely been the best. For December, I’m planning to just 100% indulge in fluffy Christmas romcoms, so I probably won’t be reading any more of McBain until 2021. Since I started reading them in April 2019, this definitely isn’t a fast-moving series read!!

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 31-35 // by Ed McBain

31. So Long as You Both Shall Live (1976)
32. Long Time No See (1977)
33. Calypso (1979)
34. Ghosts (1980)
35. Heat (1981)

As usual, this batch of five 87th Precinct mysteries was a mixed bag.  Long Time No See and Heat were my favorites of the group, with Calypso not only my least favorite of these five, but possibly my least favorite of the series so far.

Bert Kling finally gets married in So Long as You Both Shall Live, but his wife disappears from their honeymoon suite.  In this one, the mystery felt like a bit of a stretch, but it wasn’t too bad.

In Long Time No See, someone keeps murdering blind people.  Is there a connection?  The pacing in this one was pretty snappy and kept me engaged in the story.

Calypso was just way over-the-top.  I’m going to give away the entire shebang here – basically, this crazy woman has kidnapped this guy and kept him as a sex slave on private island for seven years…..?????!!!!!!  I’m sorry, that’s just not an actual solution to a mystery to me, and all the coincidences were just way too much.  Plus, in the end there is a pretty horrific torture scene that was completely unnecessary.  Ugh.

Ghosts was a pretty decent mystery, but there are actual ghosts in it, which felt like a departure from the norm for this series.  However, since the ghosts weren’t the solution to the mystery, I was willing to go with it.

Finally, Heat had a good main mystery, but there was a side quest with Kling’s wife having an affair that really just felt like (a) filler and (b) a way to emphasize the fact that Kling has terrible luck with women.  (Pro tip: Don’t date Kling.)

Overall, I’m still enjoying my trek through the 87th Precinct mysteries, but I still have 20 to go and am not as excited about them as I once was.  However – the Deaf Man is back as the villain for one of the stories in the next batch, and those have been my favorites by far, so at least I have that to look forward to!!

87th Precinct // Books 26-30 // by Ed McBain

  • 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.

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 21-25 // by Ed McBain

21. Eighty Million Eyes (1966)
22. Fuzz (1968)
23. Shotgun (1968)
24. Jigsaw (1970)
25. Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here (1971)

I haven’t done a review for these in a little while, although I have still been working through batches of five at a time (there are an astounding 55 titles in this series, so I still have quite a ways to go!).  They are short, snappy, and snarky, and I really enjoy them a lot.  It’s interesting to watch them progress through time as well – the first was published in 1956 – for instance, Miranda rights were established in the mid-1960’s, so McBain makes a big deal out of them in these books, emphasizing the mixed feelings the officers themselves have about this limitation on what they are and aren’t allowed to say and do to suspects.

This was a pretty strong set of five.  Eighty Million Eyes was clever and fun.  When a man dies on live television, killed by a very fast-acting poison, it seems impossible to believe that someone could have killed him while eighty million eyes were watching him.

In Fuzz we had the return of the nemesis of the 87th Precinct, the Deaf Man.  In one of the author notes in one of these books, McBain was saying that he really wanted to write a lot more deaf man stories, but the truth was that the Deaf Man was cleverer than even McBain, so it was a struggle!  In this story, there is a fairly large coincidence that brings down the Deaf Man’s plot, but in a way that’s kind of the point – the Deaf Man actually IS smarter than the detectives, and it’s only sheer dumb luck that keeps allowing them to thwart him.

Shotgun had a great twist, and also emphasized one of the random things that I like about this series – small continuities throughout.  While each of these would read perfectly well as a standalone, reading them in order does let small details build together.  While the story in He Who Hesitates was concluded in a fairly satisfactory manner, in this book, a side plot is an even more satisfying postscript to that story.

Each story focuses on a different detective, and we got to focus on one that had mostly been a background character up until this time.  It was interesting to travel with Detective Brown (brown both in name and in color, he says), as McBain rather sarcastically explores the racism of the time.  I loved the way they used that racism to the precinct’s advantage.

The final book in this batch, Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here, was a completely different pattern from the usual – instead of one major mystery at the center of the story, it just focuses on a 24 hour period at the precinct, with all the small mysteries and disturbances that come with it.  It made for rather addictive reading, trying to find out what was happening with several small stories all crisscrossing together.

If you’re sensitive to things like annoying men referring to women as “broads” and that sort of thing, you should steer clear of these.  But if you can accept it all as part of the fun (and part of the times), these are fun and fast procedurals, with McBain’s genuine respect and admiration for city detectives – and his love for the city itself – at their core.

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 11-15 // by Ed McBain

11. Give the Boys a Great Big Hand (1960)
12. The Heckler (1960)
13. See Them Die (1960)
14. Lady, Lady, I Did It! (1961)
15. The Empty Hours (1962)

Reading these books in batches of five is basically perfect.  It’s enough to delve back into this world and the characters in it, but not enough to get burned out on – which is a definite concern since there are 55 titles altogether!

As always, rather than focusing on a specific individual, the books are about the entire precinct of detectives.  And while it is super fun to read them in order, because characters do evolve and change, they also would read well as standalones, as McBain does a great job of summing up pertinent information about various individuals in each story.

Give the Boys a Great Big Hand and The Empty Hours were the weakest two out of this batch.  Hand was just a bit too disjointed, although part of my confusion may have come from the synopsis, which implied that hands were being discovered all over town – when in fact there were only two hands, from one person, not a serial killer leaving unattached hands all over the place.  Hours is actually three short stories, and while they were alright, they were a bit too short to really get into anything serious.

In Lady, Lady, I Did It! McBain pulled off one of his little tricks that he isn’t afraid to pull – he killed off a character who had been in several other books!  I was absolutely devastated when Bert’s finance is killed in the first chapter, mainly because Bert is one of my favorites out of all the detectives.  The story was a little rambly in this one as well, although it was interesting to read some different perspectives on abortion back when abortion wasn’t legal.

See Them Die was a departure from McBain’s usual type.  This story takes place over the course of one long, hot afternoon in a bad neighborhood, where the detectives are given a tip that a gang member they have been chasing is holed up in an apartment building.  Much of the story is about a small group of young Hispanic teens who are trying to form their own gang, and are intent on “proving themselves” – by murdering another kid in the neighborhood.  The story is definitely polemic as it deals with racism and gangs, but it felt like McBain was overall balanced.  I almost wonder if something specific happened in McBain’s life to lead him to write this book, because it honestly comes across as though he feels like he has to give out this message.

Again, McBain isn’t afraid to kill off characters, and I’ll confess that I flipped to the end of the book when I was about a third of the way in because I really needed to be emotionally prepared for whoever was going to die – and it still kicked me hard in the feels.  So much of the violence throughout the story is needless – and that’s part of McBain’s point.  There is one detective on the force who is a casual racist – he doesn’t see himself as that way at all, and you spend most of the story wanting to punch him in the face for the comments he makes, especially towards a fellow detective whose parents are from Puerto Rico.  Frankie, the Hispanic detective, has such a passion for the neighborhood where he grew up, and a desire to see something better for the young people there.  He’s a character for whom I had genuine empathy throughout the story.

In the end, while See Them Die may be a little too West Side Story for serious mystery readers, I found it to be a thoughtful and engaging story, especially as part of the whole series.

Finally, The Heckler was my favorite out of the batch, and one of my favorites in the series so far.  McBain introduces a nemesis to the storyline (and his afterword indicates that he will reappear in future tales), and the whole story is a lead-up to a Oceans Eleven type gig that explodes at the end.  It’s a little too much, but at the same time a lot of fun.

I also really loved the way that McBain regularly emphasized the way that Carella loves his wife, Teddy, whom he married early in the series.  There’s an honestly beautiful scene in this book where Carella tells Teddy how he loves her even more now that they’ve been married of years and have children, and it made me super happy.  Romance in long-standing marriages isn’t given enough appreciation in literature, in my opinion.

Whenever I read other reviews of McBain’s books, he gets a lot of flack for being a bit purple in his prose, but I honestly enjoy it for the most part.  He has a knack of being able to make the reader really FEEL the weather and atmosphere of his story.  I mean –



In the city, they are synonymous, they are identical, they mean one and the same thing.  …

The air is tangible.  You can reach out to touch it.  It is sticky and clinging, you can wrap it around you like a viscous overcoat.  The asphalt in the gutters has turned to gum, and your heels clutch at it when you try to navigate the streets.  The pavements glow with a flat off-white brilliance, contrasting with the running black of the gutter, creating an alternating pattern of shade and light that is dizzying.  The sun sits low on a still sky, a sky as pale as faded dungarees.  There is only a hint of blue in this sky for it has been washed out by the intensity of the sun, and there is a shimmer over everything, the shimmer of heat ready to explode in rain.

Seriously, if that doesn’t make you FEEL hot, I don’t know what will.  And it sets everything up for the entire book (that’s from See Them Die), where the intensity of the heat is part of what has everyone on edge.

All in all, I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with the 87th Precinct.  While these aren’t the most brilliant reads, they have been interesting and fun, and I’m intrigued to see where else McBain takes his detectives.

87th Precinct // Books 6-10 // by Ed McBain

  • 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.