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!!

October Minireviews // Part 1

Well, here we are in the last week of October and not a single book review posted!  I’m going to try to catch up with some minireviews, but we will see what happens.  I’ve actually been reading some good books lately, but life has just been too busy to be conducive to review-writing!

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

//published 2015//

This book was first brought to my attention by Cleopatra, and I was immediately attracted the combination of a nonfiction book on a rather random topic, and learning more about the science behind Agatha Christie’s murders.  This book did not disappoint.  It was informative and engaging, full of fascinating information without becoming too lecture-y.

The format of each chapter made each poison accessible.  Each starts with an incident of Christie using the poison in a story, followed by the history of the poison, a scientific explanation of how the poison actually kills someone, the antidote (if any!), famous real-life cases of the poison being used, and then tying back in to Christie’s use of the poison in her stories.  Throughout, I was consistently impressed with the overall accuracy of Christie’s use of poisons and descriptions of their symptoms.

Although reading this book made my husband nervous, Harkup is quite clear that (in most cases), science has advanced enough to make it difficult to get away with poisoning, although I was genuinely quite astonished at the fact that ricin, found in castor bean plants, is so very poisonous.  I’ve always heard the old saying that if you don’t like someone you can make them some castor-bean tea, but after reading this book it does seem that these plants should come with a more thorough warning, especially for families with small children who like to play in the garden!

Overall, this book was a surprisingly engaging read.  My only real complaint is that while Harkup did provide a interesting introduction, the book ended rather abruptly – a few closing comments would have been nice to sort of tie everything back together.  Still, with so much information presented in such an interesting manner, I really can’t complain too much.  Definitely recommended for people interested in bumping someone off or just learning more about the science behind Christie’s works.

Glass Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder

First off, I would have been quite annoyed if I had read these books in the order listed on Goodreads.  If you are interested in reading all of Snyder’s books set in Ixia/Sitia, read the three Poison Study books, then the Glass books, and then the Soulfinders books.  I’m in the middle of the second Soulfinder book, and think that I would have been rather confused if I hadn’t received all the background from both the Glass trilogy and also a short story available on Snyder’s website, that really should be included as a prologue to the first Soulfinder book, as it has a lot of critical information.

ANYWAY the Glass trilogy itself was really good, but the main character/narrator, Opal, was just not as likable to me as the main character/narrator of the Poison Study books (Yelena).  Opal always felt like she was three steps behind and more worried about herself than anything else.  But by far the worst part about the trilogy were the love triangles, yes, plural, because the players switched about between different books, and none of the options were good.

Overall, I would give these three books 3/5, maybe 3.5.  The stories weren’t bad, it was just that I found Opal so annoying and felt like she consistently made the wrong/selfish choice.  I also felt like the conclusion to the love triangles was kind of weird and made me uncomfortable – more in the next paragraph, so skip it if you are worried about spoilers!

SPOILER PARAGRAPH FOR REAL: Opal is kidnapped/tortured by a guy in the beginning, and in the end, that’s the one she ends up with!  He goes through this huge change of heart, etc., but Opal’s attraction to him began before the change and before she knew he had changed.  The way that it was presented made me very uncomfortable.  The whole thing was really weird.

Dot Journaling: How to Start and Keep the Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That’ll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

//published 2017//

If you’re like me and like to have things explained to you (thoroughly), instead of that artsy ‘just follow your heart and do what looks right to you’ nonsense, this book may be for you.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Dot/Bullet Journaling, because I am way into lists and also into journaling and I also actually have started making notebook inserts and selling them on Etsy, and most people are using them for this type of thing. Miller does a really nice job of explaining the concept of dot journaling, and then laying out some basic guidelines and ideas. She does emphasize that the entire point of this method is its flexibility and convenience of being able to make it your own, but also gives actual real examples and ideas.

My only personal issue with this book is that a lot of times the pictures were the explanation, which was totally fine, except sometimes the pictures also crossed the middle of the book, which meant that important parts of the pictures were tucked down inside the binding and were not readable. This seemed like a really obvious flaw that could have been fixed before printing, as it occurred on multiple occasions. It does make the book look nice, having the pictures cross both sides of the book, but then maybe a different binding should have been chosen, as this really aggravated me.

Overall, though, this was a friendly and accessible book that made me feel like it is possible to use a dot journal without having to be a really creative and artsy person.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

//published 2014//

This was my latest book from my Bethany Beach Box, which despite mostly 3/5 reads, I have been enjoying.  I actually really like children’s fiction, and it’s been interesting to see what books are considered worth promoting this way.  Turtle was another 3/5 read, honestly mostly because it was quite boring.  As an adult, it was rather obvious that Nye’s entire goal was to write a book that showed a Muslim family in a Muslim country in a positive light.  There is nothing wrong with that, but considering how people complain about books written in the 1950’s and how they’re “too sweet” and not at all “realistic”, it seems a little strange to turn around and praise a book that is basically sugar.

Aref and his parents are moving from Oman, a country in the Middle East, to Michigan, so that his parents can complete their doctorate degrees.  Aref isn’t happy about leaving, and most of the book are little adventures that he has with his grandpa as they visit all of their favorite places together.  I honestly ended the book feeling quite aggravated with Aref’s parents, who seemed to feel that their education and life was more important than Aref being close to his grandpa.

But what really  bogged this book down were the lists.  We’re told at the beginning that Aref and his family love learning new things, and then writing down what they have learned that day.  So throughout the book, whenever Nye wants her readers to learn something, we have to suffer through a list, in Aref’s handwriting, telling us about the habits of turtles or how awesome it is to live in Oman under the rule of a sultan, which really added to the boring factor in this tale.

I realize that I am not the target audience for this book, but even at the age of ten I don’t think that I would have enjoyed reading a bunch of lists.  All in all, this book came across as a book that practically screamed USE ME FOR A UNIT STUDY IN YOUR SECOND GRADE CLASSROOM, but in my mind didn’t have a lot to offer just simply as a story.