McBain-Lets-Hear-panYes, it’s the return of the fiendish nemesis of the 87th Precinct in his third appearance in 12 years (he appears approximately once a decade). Despite the fact that both of his previous capers were undone by sheer bad luck, he seems cockier than ever, taunting the detectives a series of tantalising clues to his latest scheme.

“You’ll have to speak louder,” the voice said. “I’m a little hard of hearing.”

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

Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man (87th Precinct series #27)
First Published: 1973
Leading players: Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer, Hal Willis, Peter Byrnes, Cotton Hawes, Monoghan & Monroe, The Deaf Man

The Deaf Man starts sending photostats of photographs addressed to Carella. First to arrive is a photo of J. Edgar Hoover, a copy of which is then sent again shortly afterwards. This is then followed by two of George Washington, then of a Japanese zero plane, silent film star Vilma Banky and an American football teams all of which are reproduced in the book. The delivery of the manila envelopes, always addressed to Carella, becomes almost a routine. Is our nemesis just playing a game and sticking to his own set of rules, or could it be that he needs to the 87th to behave in a certain way for his plan to work?

“With your assistance,” the Deaf Man said, “I’m going to steal five hundred thousand dollars on the last day of April.”

McBain-Lets-Hear-Deaf-Man-signetThroughout much of the story the squad tries to figure out what the clues mean while being taunted with regular telephone calls from the Deaf Man. In the meantime, they also investigate other cases …  Carella looks into the bizarre death of an unidentified young man found crucified to a wall, which he eventually cracks mainly thanks to the long arm of coincidence as he literally bumps into most of the suspects just by doggedly questioning the people living in the area. Kling on the other hand investigates a cat burglar with a sense of humour – steadily ransacking one of the more ritzy blocks in town, he leaves live kittens at the scene as a calling card. Kling also has a fair amount of luck in trying to crack the case but perhaps more importantly falls in love again …

“He had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life”

Kling is always destined to have a rocky love life but here he begins anew, becoming utterly smitten with the stunning Augusta, a model recently arrived in town whose apartment gets burgled. He is utterly tongue-tied around her but luckily for him she cuts through all the embarrassment as she not only knows how great people thinks she looks but also happens to think that Kling is as beautiful as she is. And while all this is going on, the Deaf Man concocts a clever dual scheme to rob a bank that only Carella might be able to crack – but will he make it in time? This is often a very funny story – the introduction of the Deaf Man for instance at the end of the second chapter comes as the climax to a hilarious scene of escalating chaos in the squad room as noisy felons and victims just keep piling in – but is not all played for laughs and in fact is also full of surprisingly ripe language. Its main virtue though is that it rattles along at a great pace, buoyed by three ingenious plotlines and the introduction of a great new character in Augusta Blair. We, and Kling, will certainly be hearing more from her in future volumes …

The Deaf Man cases

  • The Heckler (1960) – which I previously reviewed here
  • Fuzz (1968) – reviewed here
  • Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man! (1973)
  • Eight Black Horses (1985)
  • Mischief (1993)
  • Hark! (2004)

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo in the ‘Crime other than murder’ category – yes, there is a killing in it, but it’s not the main crime being investigated so I think this makes it OK …


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

This entry was posted in 2014 Vintage Mystery Challenge Bingo, 87th Precinct, Ed McBain, Friday's Forgotten Book, New York, Police procedural. Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE DEAF MAN (1973) by Ed McBain

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Sergio – Ah, the Deaf Man! He’s definitely a cleverly-drawn character even if he’s not supposed to be really a sympathetic one. And I agree with you that there’s a nice thread of wit here too. I’m glad you pointed out the pace in the novel as I think McBain did that quite effectively. And let’s face it; a McBain 3-tips beats a lot of other people’s best…

  2. justjack says:

    I did NOT think I would enjoy the repeated appearances of The Deaf Man. I was wrong. This one had me smiling throughout. Steve’s gradually growing insight into The Deaf Man means that the battle will be less one-sided, less dependent on random luck (I think).

    But yes, VERY enjoyable. Good Review, Sergio. Again.

    • Thanks Jack – I’m with you, the idea of a recurring nemesis (whioch automatically presumes they would ghave to get away with it or at least remain at liberty every time) seemed potentially an exercise in furstration if one were to takle this seriously but glad to say mcBain makes it work really well – very martly he folds the artificiality of the concept of a recurring villain into the story itself, which really helps/

  3. neer says:

    Fuzz was a riot. This one seems to be good too. Thanks Sergio for the review.

  4. TracyK says:

    I am looking forward to getting this far along in the series someday. Of course, if I only read two a year, it will take me a while.

  5. Colin says:

    Sounds like another good one Sergio, and just bolsters my determination to get stuck into this series. Sadly that won’t be before the summer as the bunch of McBain titles I bought are all back in NI just now. Sigh.

  6. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Great review – I was always a little nervous that the return of the Deaf Man would be an anticlimax but it usually wasn’t. This one had McBain in such command of his material – he really is a great writer.

  7. McBain wanted his coppers to be challenged by a Professor Moriarty type villain. But McBain always adds his own twist to things. Plenty of Dark Humor in those Deaf Man books. .

  8. John says:

    I love me a master criminal! Great and enticing review about a character I know little about. I think this year I’ll read in order all the 87th Precinct books with the Deaf Man. There are two used book stores in Chicago with tons of McBain books. They should all be easy to find and very cheap to buy, too.

  9. Marty McKee says:

    What I think is interesting about the Deaf Man is that, outside of a couple of split-second encounters with Carella (or is it only one?), no one from the 87th Precinct has ever seen him! What an interesting idea for a recurring arch-villain.

  10. Sergio, I’m not familiar with the Deaf Man novels. In fact, I didn’t know McBain had an arch foe, like Moriarty as George mentioned, or like the Joker with a calling card and an all too common.bank robbery plot. The subplots is what catches my eye in your reviews of McBain’s novels. They make his stories more authentic, as intended no doubt.

  11. TomCat says:

    The timing of your review is perfect! McBain’s Give the Boys a Great Big Hand is next on the pile and the Deaf Man sounds (pun intended) like an interesting character. Love dark humor.

  12. Kelly says:

    I like the idea of a semi-recurring villain. One more reason I need to get on the McBain wagon.

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  16. Hank says:

    The only thing I regret about this review is that it didn’t reproduce the cover of the original US hardcover. Many years ago, several months after reading “Eight Black Horses:, I came across a hardcover copy of “LHIFTDM”–with a dust jacket–for a couple of dollars at a thrift store, and it was like encountering buried treasure, kicking my McBain fandom to a whole new level.

    Unfortunately, some of the illustration-heavy McBain titles were republished as mass-market paperbacks without the illustrations, and I believe that this was one of them, making me cherish that hardcover even more. I can’t imagine this story making as much sense without the helpful photographs of Vilma Banky.

    As for the Deaf Man–he’s an interesting character, although I think I might tend to like the Deaf Man novels more for the sheer ingenuity of the plots than for the recurring villainy. That said, one of the more annoying movie tropes in recent memory are action films featuring bad guys who have a knack for crafting improbably intricate plans while somehow successfully anticipating every move of their opponent with an extreme accuracy that always winds up taking me out of the story (see: “Se7en” and “Skyfall”). That the Deaf Man fails because he is only able to anticipate…ALMOST everything is, to me, the makings of a great crime novel.

    I love this novel. Not perfect by any means–I could nitpick the two “B” stories, but to me, “LHIFTDM” remains one of the most fun tales that McBain would ever spin.

    Oh–and before I forget, I try to note interesting parallels between certain McBain novels, although in this case, the murder-by-crucifixion echoes a short story that McBain wrote about ten years later, “And All Through The House”–a Christmas story. (You might see where I’m going with this.) If one is not interested in shelling out cash for the special hardcover version of the story published in 1994, I would recommend going on Ebay and snagging a copy of the December, 1984 issue of Playboy with Suzanne Somers on the cover.

    • Thanks very much for that Hank – you’re kidding, it’s cheaper to get the mag than the hardcover? Who’d have thunk it. I did use to watch Three’s Company (dubbed into Italian if you can imagine … and they left the laugh track in too). The paperback does reproduce the images but they don’t look that great, as you’d expect. I agree, there supercriminal is such a literary idea that it is good that McBain manages to make it seem a bit more credible by having him usually fail through human error. I don’t much enjoy modern thrillers about ultra clever serial killers who like to play games (I’m thinking of Jeffrey Deaver a bit here), for all their ingenuity (thogh I think Se7en is a masterpiece). Is this hardcover edition you have?
      DEAF MAN

      • Hank says:

        That’s it!

        Maybe I’m old, but when I walk into a bookstore these days, none of the covers seem to catch my eye–the stacks just look like mush.

        “Se7en” lost me completely when it tried to have me believe that there exists a shipping company somewhere on planet earth that is willing to deliver parcels to an empty field in the middle of nowhere containing no physical structure or even any landmarks bearing any type of street address–and at a specified time later that same day. On behalf of a customer who is covered with blood. I’m all about the suspension of disbelief, but in the McBain universe, had the Deaf Man tried such a scheme, either (a) the clerk taking the delivery order would somehow get the name of the street wrong (McBain, of course, would actually show the reader the actual order form), or (b) there would be another street with the same or similar name, and when the delivery guy tries calling the phone number on the invoice to ask for directions, the cops would answer the phone because the Deaf Man had already surrendered himself to police custody, or (c) the delivery would be delayed because the delivery guy stopped to deliver other packages along the way to customers intent upon taking their sweet time to get to the door to sign their names, leaving Carella and Brown standing out in a field with the Deaf Man to look at their watches and wonder when these sixth and seventh sins he’d promised them would ever come to fruition…

        • That’s great Hank, love the idea of crossing the two – it just wouldn’t work at all. The prosaic world of the 87th would just level that movie – I love them both, but you’re right of course, the movie is utterly unrealistic in detail.

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