LONG TIME NO SEE (1977) by Ed McBain

McBain_Long-Time-No-See_panWell, it really has been a while – over a year to be precise! After the disappointment of So Long As You Both Shall Live (which I reviewed here), I decided to bench the 87th Precinct books for a while. But today we are back with the next volume in Ed McBain’s infinitely varied saga, titled appropriately enough, Long Time No See. And I’m glad to say that this proves to be a much more substantial effort. We begin with a double murder – first a Vietnam vet, blinded in the conflict, has his throat cut in the street. Then the next day his wife, who is also blind, is murdered at home in the same way.

I submit this review for  Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge. 

Long Time No See (87th Precinct series #32)
First Published: 1977
Leading players: Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Monoghan & Monroe, Cotton Hawes, Teddy Carella, Sam Grossman, Dick Genero

“He was blind but he knew his city”

Carella and Mayer soon discover that the seemingly innocent husband and wife had secrets – she was having an affair, and he was hoping to reverse his financial fortunes with some illegal activity. But then another blind person is murdered and another attacked, which suggests that in fact there is a maniac at large. It turns out that McBain is ever so slightly recycling one of his oldest plots here, something he acknowledges in humorous fashion by having his detectives poo poo the scenario as being too far-fetched (and then McBain goes right ahead and does it anyway). But if some of the story feels a bit familiar, the approach has definitely changed with the time.

“The tempo of the city was changing” – chapter four

The first thing you notice picking this one up is that is feels much heavier than the previous entry – with reason, as it’s double the length! On the back of my copy, the 1979 pan edition pictured at the top of this review, it quotes a Sunday Times review, “The best 87th Precinct, as well as the longest, for several years” and it seems clear that the increased length was a new selling point for the series. The paperback revolution of the 50s and 60s had quietened down and the cover prices had gone up – now it was the era of the Arthur Hailey / Harold Robbins blockbuster and readers demanded more for their money. So McBain added more sex and started to focus more or salacious content, though thankfully with his wit intact. Take this long aside into lavatorial humour:

“In all of America, a toilet was something other than what it was supposed to be. It was a bathroom or a powder room or a rest room, but it was never a toilet. Americans did not like the word toilet. It denoted waste product. Americans, the most wasteful humans on the face of the earth, did not like to discuss waste products of bodily functions”

McBain_Long-Time-No-See_amzWhen the series started, back in the mid 1950s, there would be three 87th Precinct novels a year, all about 150 pages long and could cost as little as 25 cents. My UK paperback copy  was originally priced at £2.50, which is pretty much what I might pay for it online today (with postage). It is over 250 pages long, and to reach this length McBain definitely relaxed his style. Though this never feels like padding – his prose was always first-rate – it does take much longer now for the author to cut to the chase. For instance, we get a very long section set in a ‘massage parlour’ that is, in and of itself, very well done and typical of the increased depiction of sex in the books, but is none the less little more than a massive narrative blind alley (or shall we say, a great, big ole red herring). Other recent books in the series, such as Bread (which I reviewed here), had already started to feet more substantial not just because of increased length but also because there was more plot and there were more characters, In this case though what we have is certainly the longest 87th precinct mystery by far (and it would hold the record for quite a while too) but this is achieved by extending all the scenes with more detailed character building, extended red herrings and lengthier character ruminations. There is even – I think a first for the series – an extended flashback, leading to a pretty explicit sex scene.

“One of the cops was Italian, but he didn’t wear a dirty raincoat, and he didn’t fumble for words, and he didn’t pretend he was dumb.”

When the 87th precinct series started, McBain frequently references jack Webb’s radio and TV sensation Dragnet – not this has changed to Columbo (which is ironic as two of the books would eventually be adapted for the show when revived int he late 80s – I reviewed these two before: Jigsaw and So Long As You Both Shall Live. In many ways Long Time No See represents a shifting of gears or anyway a course correction for the series, with McBain amending his approach to better adapt itself to changing market conditions. There would now be references to computers and the language would be much coarser and the content sometimes very bloody indeed (the finale to his next book, Calypso , for instance, is truly nasty). Beyond these cosmetic changes though it has to be said that the way that McBain connects the killing of three blind people with an incident going back a decade to the Vietnam War is certainly surprising, if not especially convincing. None the less, this is a book which proves that, even after thirty volumes, the series could still go to new places in an exciting fashion.

I am making my way chronologically though the entire 87th Precinct series – to see my previous reviews, click here.

This review was submitted as part of Bev’s 2015 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in ‘pseudonym’ the category:


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

This entry was posted in 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge, 87th Precinct, Ed McBain, Friday's Forgotten Book, New York, Police procedural. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to LONG TIME NO SEE (1977) by Ed McBain

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Glad you liked this one better than the last, Sergio. Interesting isn’t it how that really was just about the time that the books began to get both longer and more expensive. I always liked Hunter/McBain’s skill and willingness to ‘step back’ and poke some fun, even at his own expense.

    • Too true Margot – yes, it was with some relief to come back to a better title in the series. Deep down this is when the books did change in some respects and I am less keen on these later volumes, over all, so am keen to revisit them to see if my feelings have changed at all. We shall see …

  2. realthog says:

    WHAT!!??1!! You’re saying there’s an 87th Precinct novel that’s below par? I haven’t read all of them but I have read lots, and so far I’ve not found a dud. I shall have to lay hands on So Long As You Both Shall Live and, if necessary, speak strongly to you, sir.

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have not yet read any Ed Mcbain. I’ll start with this one !

    • There is very little continuity in the series, aside from a few internal references that the author usually explains, so it’s as good a place as any, Santosh. Obviously the books from the 50s are fresher, shorter and the language is much milder. Enjoy!

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Great review, and I recall feeling that there was a slight slip in quality as the books expanded in length – I like my 87th precincts short and laconic! Having said that, lesser McBain is miles better than anyone else – it was only really with the final few books that I felt I was perhaps not really reading McBain any more…l

    • Thanks Karen – deep down, I tend to feel the same as you. When I embarked on this (slightly daft) idea of re-reading the whole lot again, I did dread getting past the mid 1970s. This is when the series really started again for the new era. So far, so good …

  5. Colin says:

    It’s nice to see you return to the series. In the past I’d been lamenting the fact that I hadn’t read any. Well I’ve started to remedy that.
    At the moment I’m reading an early (non-87th) book by the author – The Gutter and the Grave – and I’ve also managed to read two 87th Precinct novels over the last 12 months or so.
    Having gone through both Cop Hater and Ice, I can see both the earlier and later versions of his work. To tell the truth, I enjoyed both despite the shift in style they represent. I’ve also picked up a good few more, mostly early novels, in the meantime and I will be working my way through them bit by bit.

    • Thanks Colin – not read The Gutter and the Grave actually, that was a ‘Curt Cannon’ book reprinted by HCC, right? I’ll be getting to Ice in about 3 reviews time I think (I am usually two ahead so next up will Calypso, which has some real problems, and then Ghosts which i was really worried about for its supernatural angle but which I liked much more). Really glad you’re enjoying the series in all its various eras 🙂

      • Colin says:

        Yes, G&G is exactly the reprint you mention. It’s very pulpy – no bad thing in my view – and I’m enjoying it so far.

        Those two 87th novels I’ve read have given me an appetite to delve deeper, although your reviews had laid the groundwork anyway, and ‘ll definitely be reading more.

        • That’s great Colin. I do want to read some of these earlier pulp works, both for their won specific virtues but because he apparently re-wrote some of them as 87th Precinct stories.

          • Colin says:

            I didn’t know that. I’m not that far in, less than 100 pages, but I just read a passage that I felt had a little of the flavor of the 87th – of course my knowledge of the latter is quite limited so far.

          • Must admit, I didn’t know which particular story as by Collins or ‘Richard Marsten’ got the treatment but it did apparently happen,. Certainly the story ‘See Him Die’ by Evan Hunter published in 1955 became part of the 1960 novel SEE THEM DIE

  6. Good timing — I was just thinking about reading another 87th novel, and the very next day you’ve got another fine review up! You’re much father along than I am (there’s still some from the ’50s I need to read) but the setup for this one sounds fascinating. I’ve also liked seeing the 87th develop to keep pace with the market, and what you said about this one representing McBain’s shifting gears sounds intriguing.

    • Thanks Chris – McBain / Hunter was nothing of not a survivor – what’s a amazing is that, chronologically speaking, this was only halfway through the series – amazing,, eh?

  7. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have read the book and I found it good and enjoyable with an interesting plot. I found it suspenseful and a page turner. However, there are several unnecessary digressions . Also, the sudden confession on part of the culprit towards the end seems unnatural.
    I liked the writing style especially in the description of people and places. I also found a lot of humour.
    The author copies a trick used in a famous novel by Agatha Christie.

    • realthog says:

      However, there are several unnecessary digressions

      That’s a McBain trademark — and a big part of the attraction for his devotees!

      • I agree though in this case they are very, very extended so it does become more obvious as a way to make the books longer. But always very professionally done!

    • Thanks for that Santosh and very glad you enjoyed it. Yes, it does stray quite a bit, and McBain was definitely reusing a Christie ploy that he used in the first of the series, Cop Hater. As fo rth econfession, well maybe after 4 murders they’d just had enough 🙂

  8. Bev Hankins says:

    I’m glad this one was more to your liking, Sergio. I’ve got some McBain on the TBR stacks–mainly because I found them in my pulp-cover, pocket-size editions. I just haven’t gotten in the mood to pull one off yet–I’m not sure (from getting a taste through reading your fine reviews) whether they’re going to be my up of tea…

    • I hope you do give them a go Bev – I think you’ll certainly like the ones published up to blood relatives in 1975 – they’re shorter, snappier, and frankly fit in much more than you might expect with Golden Age approaches to mystery – they are practically all whodunits in one form or another and for the most part avoid violence.

  9. Sergio, it’s interesting that McBain might have increased the length of his novels and wrote more titillating stuff due to perceived competition from bestselling authors of the 70s and 80s, two of whom you mentioned. I’d imagine he was a writer in his own league with little or no threat from his peers or anyone. I’ll have to seriously think of having a self-styled Ed McBain challenge, perhaps a book a month to start with. I already have a dozen of them.

    • A dozen? Time to get cracking chum! Well, Hunter / McBain I think did well financially (though he did get married a lot, which is an expensive passtime …) but none the less needed to do as well as he could in the marketplace and the ‘blockbuster’ mentality was squeezing out shorter and compact books from the paperback boom as that kind of slick entertainment was inevitably being replaced by episodic TV.

      • Absolutely, Sergio. For now I’m still working my way through the Carter Dickson that I’ll review as soon as I finish it. It scares me that you’re going to be the judge and there’s a very learned jury (of commentators) out there! By the way I just checked some of my McBains and found two—VESPERS (1990) and GLADLY THE CROSS-EYED BEAR (1996)—to be more than 300 pages. Fortunately, the typeface is decent. I have been more comfortable reading his short stories as Hunter/Marsten.

        • Can’t wait to read your Carter Dickson review – hope you enjoyed the book chum. The later Hunter / McBain books are so much longer – if you can start with his books from the 50s and 60s you’ll be much better off. Have you any from then?

          • Sergio, I found three in my office cabinet and those include GIVE THE BOYS A GREAT BIG HAND (Penguin Crime, 1960), EIGHTY MILLION EYES (Ballantine Mystery, 1966), and HAIL, HAIL THE GANG’S ALL HERE! (Pan, 1971). The Ballantine cover is sort of vintage. I don’t think I have anything from the 50s.

          • All three of those are great – HAIL, HAIL may be a really useful primer as it was a 25th volume celebration and has a dozen plots running all at the same time!

  10. I’ve read a handful of his: I always enjoy them when I read them, but never rush out to get another. I can see I’m missing something….

    • Well, look, I like the procedural genre per se, sure – but I now really want to see it through to the end of the series- no idea if I’ll manage all 55 volume as it is taking me much longer than i’d hoped. But then bloggers will just keep plugging some great sounding books and you get behind …

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  13. Hank says:

    Nobody asked me, but–I didn’t mind that the novels got longer at about this point. And I don’t know that they necessarily even got that much raunchier or gorier. But the truly memorable character moments that have resonated with me are mostly from the novels post-dating the expanded page counts. In addition, and while I don’t now how far ahead he planned his novels, McBain’s multi-novel arcs became more elaborate.

    With those multi-novel arcs in mind–some have discussed the issue of whether there is a preferred order in which the reader should go through the 87th Precinct novels, and my two cents on the subject is that as far as the earlier novels go, it really doesn’t matter, but that starting at about this point, with the later, longer novels, there is arguably a risk that a later novel may spoil certain details of an earlier novel. While McBain is generally good about not giving away too much, I still recommend reading the later, longer novels sequentially.

    In the earlier novels, this isn’t that much of a problem, as the only character whose private life significantly evolves over the course of the first thirty or so novels is Bert Kling–so much so that, frankly, Kling’s never-ending relationship issues provide the easiest way to remember the chronology of the series. Each of Bert’s women serves as something of a north star for the reader trying to get his bearing within the series–if Kling is dating Cindy, it’s a novel written in the 1960’s, etc.

    Anyway, no, I don’t mind the extended narratives. To me, it’s just more more McBain to enjoy, more time to spend with the boys of the 87th. Not a problem.

    • I think you are right Han – up to about 1976 you can read them all as stand-alones and really, with the exception of the belated payoff for he Who Hesitates, there is no great narrative advantage to reading them in order, though in terms of stylistic development it has been a fascinating journey. From the mid 80s though I agree, this does change. I am, on the whole, less keen on the longer ones so far (I’ve got as far as Eight Black Horses in my re-reading) because they really are padded. Also, scientifically speaking (sic), the language is really much, much nastier by this point and some of the violence in Lightning I think went too far (just my opinion). There is also, at this stage, a very long stretch in which the victims are always women, which rankles a bit as I read them in order, and there is a default setting for the books now – we begin with Monoghan and Monroe, end with a Q&A, and then there is often a lot of padding in the middle. Which sounds really negative but it’s what he does with the formula that separates them out and when he avoids this approach, the books are usually much fresher – Eight Black Horses being a good example of his going a slightly different way.

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