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.