SADIE WHEN SHE DIED (1972) by Ed McBain

McBain-Sadie-signetThis is one of the most admired books in the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) and was included in the Crime Writer’s Association top 100 mysteries list that Rich  has been looking at over at his Past Offences blog.

“As they spoke, Carella knew with renewed dizzying certainty that Gerald Fletcher had killed his wife”

After Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here! where over a dozen plots flowed in an out of each other, McBain next opted for a complete contrast. Sadie concentrates on one case and Carella knows whodunit from the first page – the problem is proving it.

Sadie When She Died (87th Precinct series #26)
First Published: 1972
Leading players: Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer, Arthur Brown, Peter Byrnes

It is Christmas 1972 and one evening prominent lawyer Gerald Fletcher comes home from work to find his wife has been stabbed. When the police arrive he seems not in the least perturbed about the fact that she just died in agony – quite the opposite in fact, he is incapable of disguising his pleasure at her passing!

“I repeat that my wife was a no-good bitch, and I’m delighted someone killed her.”

McBain-Sadie-signetCarella and Kling are assigned to the case and thanks to a thorough forensic investigation and an eye-witness, they are soon able to find the poor junkie who broke into the apartment and stabbed Sarah Fletcher. The man was desperate for money to get his next fix and in his delirium attacked the woman when he unexpectedly found her in the apartment. The case is thus quickly solved and Fletcher takes Carella out to celebrate. Carella finds the high-powered attorney very hard to figure – his instincts tell him that Fletcher is somehow involved, but the junkie’s sad story is clearly true – so why doesn’t it all add up in his mind? And why does Fletcher keep inviting Carella out to go eating and drinking? It seems as if he is toying with the detective …

“Reading another man’s love letters is like eating Chinese food alone.”

Carella decided to investigates the background of Sarah and Gerald Fletcher and discovered that both had secret lives that might explain why she ended up dead. This is the main story and there is only one subplot, though it is a significant one. Bert Kling, perpetually unlucky in love, has just been dumped by Cindy Forrest, his girlfriend since Eighty Million Eyes (six years and five novels ago); on the rebound he becomes interested in the eyewitnesses to the Fletcher crime. Although strangely cagey about her frequently absent boyfriend, the two go out on a few dates but when he tries to find out more about the mystery man, he nearly gets killed for his trouble.

“The chances of getting out of here alive seemed exceedingly slim to Detective Bert Kling.”

McBain-Sadie-panKling ends up in hospital but eventually manages to track down the men who beat him up and discovers just why they did it. Meanwhile Carella puts Fletcher under 24-hour surveillance, having him followed everywhere he goes and even putting bugs in the man’s apartment and even in his chauffeur-driven car. He discovers that he has a mistress who now wants to become the new Mrs Fletcher. But is Gerald aware that he his conversations are being listened to – can what he says, even in private, really be trusted?  Ultimately this leads to a solution that is both logical, unexpected and psychologically penetrating. This is a book where perhaps the influence of Georges Simenon can be discerned with its strong emphasis on character and the lack of judgement over people’s actions. It also delivers a tragic conclusion in its final page that is shocking and very well judged. I included this book in my (still developing) list of Top 100 Mysteries and upon re-reading it see no reason to change that – it is without doubt one of the finest books in the 87th Precinct series (for the list of my previous reviews and a full listing of the 55 volumes, click here).

The estimable Rich Westwood reviewed the book at his blog here; and Mike reviewed it for his blog, Only Detect.

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo in the ‘Woman in the title’ category and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.

mark4-vintage-silver-card (1)

***** (5 fedora tips out of 5)

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34 Responses to SADIE WHEN SHE DIED (1972) by Ed McBain

  1. Sergio – No doubt about it in my opinion. This is Hunter/McBain at pretty much the top of his form. And that’s saying something as I believe that a lot of the 87th Precinct novels even at their weakest are better than much of what’s out there now. Glad you enjoyed it as much, and thanks for the well-done review and the reminder.

  2. justjack says:

    Spot on, and excellent Simenon connection. I didn’t notice it, but you’re right, that McBain structured this to contrast as much as possible with the multi-story format of Hail Hail. Man, I loves me some 87th Precinct!

    • Thansk Jack – it was a real pleasure to read this one again, though there is a slight sadness too as I know that from now on it probably gets a bit hit and miss in terms of quality as the books started getting longer and longer …

  3. TracyK says:

    Ok, I just skimmed this one because I don’t want to know anything (much) about it, even though it will take me awhile to get to this place in the series. But just based on what I did read, I can see why you like it so much.

  4. Jose Ignacio says:

    Sergio you have reminded me that I have still to read some of the books in the 87th Precinct series and, certainly, this one will be one.

  5. Colin says:

    Ah, so this one represents a cut-off point of sorts? As you know I much prefer shorter, tighter stories so I’m glad you pointed out that this book is the one that ends that cycle.

    • Well, it’s a peak – the real cut off point comes pretty much in about 5 volumes time as we near the end of the 70s when the books got consistently longer – I am approaching that with a slight sense of dread but there were plenty og doo ones later too. At the end of March Patti is celebrating McBain’s work and I’ll be doing a ‘fin de siecle’ post to chime with that so be prepared to sed some tears …

      • Colin says:

        All very interesting, especially for someone like me who isn’t as familiar with McBain’s writing as I’d like to be.

        • It is fascinating to revisit them chronologically to see how they reflect times not just in crime fiction but also in terms of style on TV and the cinema. The books started when the Western was king on the screen but by the late 60s that was really replaced by cops and PIs and the books had to work harder to compete.

  6. Your Simenon reference is spot on, I wouldn’t have thought of that. I haven’t read many of the McBain books, but this one was short sharp and memorable. Great review.

  7. Lovely review – this was always one of the strongest McBains, really allowing Carella’s character to shine. Now I want to re-read…

  8. TomCat says:

    If your previous reviews hadn’t already drawn me into McBain’s circle of admirers, this one would’ve given the final push. I’m sure of it. Now if only I wasn’t hopelessly behind on my reading and stuck on impossible crimes, but I’ll return to McBain. Just keep third-degreeing me with these reviews. Eventually, I’ll crack (again).

    • Thanks for that TC – there, indeed, many more McBain reviews where that one came from! I’m really envious of all the great locked room myteries you manage to get your hands on – the one thing bout McBain is that the books are not hard to find!!

  9. I remember reading SADIE WHEN SHE DIED back in the Seventies. You’re right about it being one of the best books in the 87th Precinct series. Amazingly, it achieves its greatness in just a couple hundred pages. Some of the later volumes in the series were twice as long and half as good.

  10. Sergio, I like the way McBain spins a compelling yarn around a crime as ordinary as a junkie walking into an apartment and killing someone and then triggering events that keep the reader glued to the rest of the story. I think subplots are the norm in most of his books and they’re as interesting as the main plot. Thanks for another excellent look at a McBain work, Sergio.

  11. Pingback: Nautical naughtiness – Classic crime in the blogosphere, January 2014 | Past Offences

  12. Ela says:

    This sounds fantastic – would it be a good starting point to get into McBain’s writing? Or would everything be downhill from here on in? And can one read it not having read any of the previous books?

  13. Kelly says:

    I’m still a McBain novice. I hope to tackle the pile soon!

  14. Pingback: Review: Sadie When She Died An 87th Precinct Mystery by Ed McBain | The Game's Afoot

  15. Bev Hankins says:

    I still need to get busy and read some of the McBain books I have sitting on my shelf. They’re in my nice little pocket-size editions, so you’d think they would tempt me more. Not to mention your enthusiastic reviews prodding me along….

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