To celebrate the 25th entry in the 87th Precinct series, Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) tried something new with this triple-decker of a novel incorporating 14 separate storylines!
“This modest volume is dedicated to the Mystery Writers of America, who, if they do not award it the Edgar for the best ten mystery novels of the year, should have their collective heads examined.”
The following review is offered as part of Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here! (87th Precinct series #25)
First Published: 1971
Leading players: Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Arthur Brown, Meyer Meyer, Bob O’Brien, Sam Grossman, Andy Parker, Carl Kapek, Cotton Hawes, Hal Willis, Dick Genero, Alf Miscolo, Danny Gimp, Monoghan & Monroe, Fats Donner, Alexandre Delgado
This is a wholly unusual book in the series both in terms of structure and to a degree content – for starters, it has no chapters. Instead it is subdivided into just two sections: ‘Nightshade’ dealing with the night shift, followed by ‘Daywatch,’ providing us with a ‘day in the life’ of the 87th (a Sunday to be exact). The main plots are something like this:
- O’Brien & Kling arrest a woman who stabbed her husband and two small children
- Carella & Hawes solve the case of a dancer from a racy show who has been stabbed to death outside her theatre
- Meyer investigates a haunted house
- Kling looks into a hate crime when a bomb is thrown into a church
- O’Brien finds a missing daughter
- Willis & Genero look into an apparent suicide
- Brown looks for a missing husband
- Parker is shot during a robbery at a grocery store
- Kapek finds out who rolled a marine
- Delgado looks into an assault on a Puerto Rican businessman
- Brown locks up a paedophile
- A drunk snaps off car aerials
- Kapek deals with a soliciting charge
- Most of the team helps investigate the Parker shooting even though they hate him
“The woman smiled so suddenly and so radiantly that it almost knocked Genero clear across the hallway to the opposite wall”
Some of the stories are light (ghosts who steal jewellery, two prostitutes who upset a tourist), some very dark (a child molester who really thinks he hasn’t done anything wrong), a few mere vignettes lasting a three or four pages, while others are much more substantial. From the latter the standout is probably the case in which the dunderhead Genero is partnered with Willis to investigate a young man who seems to have jumped from his apartment to his death. Eventually it turns out the victim was not alone and Willis’ relaxed interview technique leads brilliantly to a confession when the case previously seemed open and shut. Just as interesting is Delgado’s investigation into the apparently motive-less beating up of a realtor which ultimately leads to a solution but from which the detective opts to walk away.
“I killed them all,” she said.
The book has a strong celebratory feel to it with practically the entire roster of characters making some kind of appearance and in the process provides a great showcase for McBain’s ability to juggle humour and tragedy and keep many, many balls in the air at the same time. It’s a bit too much of a one-off to be the best of the series but would make for a great jumping-in point for McBain newbies – but do such readers exist?
To read my reviews of the previous 24 entries in the series, and a full list of all the titles in McBain’s canon, see my dedicated 87th Precinct page.