ICE (1983) by Ed McBain

McBain_ice_crimemasterworksAfter a two-year gap Ed McBain returned to the cops of the Eight Seven with their longest case yet. Clocking in at over 300 pages, we are presented with four intersecting murder cases, all taking place during a particularly glacial February. It also sees the welcome return of Eileen Burke, one of the few recurring female cops in the series. The book was also turned into a really good TV-Movie as part of the short-lived series, Ed McBain 87th Precinct (1995-97). We begin with the death of a showgirl …

I submit this review for  Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason at his unmissable Sweet Freedom blog.

Ice (87th Precinct series #36)
First Published: 1983
Leading players: Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer, Arthur Brown, Richard Genero, Eileen Burke, Hal Willis, Teddy Carella, Danny Gimp, Sam Grossman, Tack Fujiwara, Peter Byrnes

“What’d you get for Valentine’s Day?”
“A murder,” Carella said.

A drug dealer named Paco is killed in one part of the city and then a few days later a dancer in a popular Broadway show is shot with the same gun – are the two cases related? While Carella and Meyer try to connect the dots, Eileen Burke returns after much too long to help out in a case involving a series of holdups in laundromats in which along with money the criminal also demands the underwear of his female victims as a prize. It’s great to have her back (the 87th really is too much of a boy’s club at times) and there is a nice in-joke when she comments, seeing that Hal Willis is happily surprised to see her, if he was expecting Raquel Welch instead (the actress played Burke in the 1972 movie version of Fuzz). Looking to the past, there is also a nice nod to The Con Man (first published in 1957) when Teddy decides to update her tattoo as a Valentine’s Day present for Steve and re-visits the parlour run by Charlie Chen.

“Crazies make police work difficult. When you’ve got a crazy on your hands, you might as well throw away the manual and work the case by the seat of your pants, because that’s the way the crazy is working his case.”

Kling and Brown are investigating the murder of a gem dealer that eventually ties up with the other two murders as all three were shot with the same gun. Then the girlfriend of the drug dealer is horribly mutilated and dies. What could possible link all these deaths and how could drugs, jewels and theatre ticket scalping all be involved? On the whole, despite its excessive length and an unwelcome emphasis on seamier elements (McBain did seem determined to pack a fair amount of sex into the books by this stage), this entry still manages to keep its wayward-seeming plot together and also adds some good character material around the Valentine’s Day rituals. On the whole this stands up well as a representative of the later style of the series (I am making my way chronologically though the entire 87th Precinct series – to see my previous reviews, click here).

Ice-tvmovieIn 1996 the novel became the second (and best) of a trio of feature-length TV films in the Ed McBain 87th Precinct series. It should have launched a regular TV show but never seemed to catch fire, which is a shame as the casting was pretty good and the production values absolutely first-rate. Indeed not only is this a reasonably faithful adaptation, thanks to the smart script by ultra experienced writer Larry Cohen, but is also very stylish thanks to the panache of Bradford May, one of most successful and busiest of TV directors and also a very experienced cinematographer and who here gives the whole production a highly polished look. For instance, when first introducing the 87th precinct and most of the cast, May shoots this in a constantly moving single take lasting nearly three minutes (a technique now rather dully referred to in the US as a ‘oner’), which requires tremendous skill and effort and which is used really rarely (well, unless you’re De Palma or Zemeckis) and practically never on TV given the time constraints they operate under (an extended sequence for the first season of True Detective was a notable, much remarked-upon exception).

“So [deleted] turned snow into ice!”

There are several changes from the book: some purely cosmetic (Hal Willis and Danny Gimp are jettisoned while Cotton Hawes and Andy Parker are added); others to make the story more immediate and concise (the various characters are brought together sooner, the killer revealed halfway and Teddy and Steve have now only been seeing each other for a year) or to add more action. The 87th Precinct books never have much in the way of chases, which is a bit of a problem on TV, so the movie adds a stalker, leading to a rooftop pursuit, and a climax re-written so as to include Teddy getting chased by the scary Emma Forbes and a final confrontation in the theatre at night, which is admittedly much more atmospheric than the book (though it does make the cops behave somewhat stupidly by setting up the killer to go there but arriving late). Not unreasonably, the film cuts out what is a very iffy section in which McBain had Burke admit to having rape fantasies and also cuts out a lot of the padding, such as the extended scenes in which witnesses are very obstructive, leading to little but an extended page-count. The cast is generally very good, with Dale Midkiff (Carella) and Joe Pantoliano (Meyer) proving especially well suited physically to their roles.

Ed McBain 87th Precinct: Ice (1996)
Director: Bradford May
Producer: Diana Kerew
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Cinematography: Bradford May
Art Direction: Gerry Holmes
Music: Joseph Conlan
Cast: Dale Midkiff (Carella), Joe Pantoliano (Meyer), Paul Johansson (Kling), Andrea Parker (Eileen Burke), Michael Gross (Lieutenant Byrnes), Andrea Ferrell (Teddy Carella), Philip Akin (Arthur Brown), Hugh Thompson (Cotton Hawes), Judah Katz (Andy Parker), Monika Schnarre (Augusta Blair), Diane Douglass, Nigel Bennett, Dean McDermott

This review was submitted as part of Bev’s 2015 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘medical’ category as the main suspect is studying to be a doctor and their saving a life proves crucial to the plot:


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

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

29 Responses to ICE (1983) by Ed McBain

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    You know, Sergio, I wasn’t sure if it was just my imagination, or if others noticed it too, but I have to agree about the ‘boys’ club’ sort of feel of the precinct at times. On the one hand, that makes me all the happier about Burke. On the other, It probably reflected reality for a very long time. I still haven’t quite worked out how I feel about that. A terrific review, as ever!

    • Thansk Margot – in the same way that the ages of the characters were frozen very early on, this does age the books somewhat. The fact that by this point in the 1980s and the 87th doesn’t yet have a female detective doesn’t feel very realistic …

  2. Colin says:

    I liked the book. There are clearly references in it to earlier events which I hadn’t read about but I didn’t have any problem with that as the storytelling was skillful enough to make it not matter. Very chilly atmosphere, in the same way the weather seems to play such a dominant role in what I’ve read of McBain so far, and a genuine sense of danger throughout too.
    You know my preference for shorter page counts but thought this novel moved along nicely.

    • Thanks Colin – I think this is a good one from the era and as with Simenon, the environment and the city are often very well caught. I plan to be less kind about LIGHTNING, which followed it, and which I am posting next week in the lead up to the Mccain celebration at Patti’s blog (you could always post a quick guest review here you know 🙂 )

      • Colin says:

        Tempting, but my blogging has been severely curtailed of late with one thing and another, and likely to remain so for a bit of time, sadly.
        I did notice that the weather affected the tone of the Simenon I read earlier this year – My Friend Maigret – and it’s a technique I like.

        • Yes, Maigret is really affected by climactic elements in a primal yet almost sensual degree. There is a great description in one of them of him swallowing rain drops like a little boy which has always stuck with me.

          • Colin says:

            I love that kind of thing; it makes the characters very much a part of the world they’re inhabiting at a given time and helps ground stories.

            I meant to say earlier that the book didn’t feel all that dated to me in terms of when it was written – 30 years ago after all. I know there has been attention drawn to the similarities before now between McBain’s books and Hill Street Blues and this one very much had that feel, even down to the largely male-dominated precinct.

          • Yes, and McBain did start adding multiple references in the books to Hill Street Blues at this time (just as he had to Dragnet int he 1950s). This is when he starts referring to computers for the first time too, so he is keeping up with the times in some respects, though in others it is all wrapped in aspic (so to speak), not that this is necessarily a problem.

  3. Sergio, I have read less than five McBains and as far as I can remember, none of them had sex scenes. I’m guessing he incorporated it in his post-1980s books. I have not come across Eileen Burke’s character and it’d be interesting to see how she gets along with the boys on 87th, though she sounds like a pro. Thanks for yet another fine review of a McBain novel.

    • Thanks Prashant – I suspect people might get a bit bored of me as I’m running three more McBain reviews next week (three???) for Patti’s meme – but then no more until Christmas, promise! I don’t consider myself prudish but the increase in the sexual content of the books from the late 70s onwards has not, for me, been much of a success.

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Also there seems to be an increase in the number of pages !

        • There sure is – basically a response to market forces but in the best of them you do get extended character work which is very worthwhile. McBain didn’t suddenly try and turn into Harold Robbins but you can clearly see the influence of the 1970s ‘bonkbuster’ mentality … Which reminds me, farewell to Jackie Collins, who one hopes had a very, very good time as an author and celebrity.

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    Have no recollection of this film.

  5. Todd Mason says:

    I assume you’ve seen the online episode or so of the 87TH PRECINCT television series, from the same production unit as THRILLER in the early ’60s, and probably have mentioned it…but if so, it’s slipping my sieve-like memory…

    • I have the entire series on DVD chum – oh yes, one takes one’s 87th Precinct obligations very seriously – and I tell ya, the great Gena Rowlands is the one and only Teddy Carella.

      • Todd Mason says:

        I’d buy that for a quarter. Both the set (I liked what I saw of the series better than the source fiction I’ve read) and the assertion about Rowlands (I think I’ve barely seen her in the episode or three I’ve seen, or not at all).

        • The complete DVD set put out by Timeless cost a bit more than that, but it’s pretty good value for a set that includes all 30 episodes. The great Gena is only in a handful of episodes sadly: Step Forward; Occupation, Citizen; Lady in Waiting (based on KILLER’S WEDGE); and The Floater (based on THE CON MAN)

  6. You lost me at 300 pages! The good thing about McBain was the short length.

  7. tracybham says:

    The movie sounds good, maybe because I love Joe Pantoliano. I usually like to wait and watch a movie after I read a book but I won’t read this one for a loooong time so I have already put the movie on my Netflix queue.

  8. steve says:

    Ice was where it all began for me. The 87th precinct novel that I read first. I really enjoyed Ice and went on to read a lot more (both the highs and lows) of the series. Because Ice was my first 87th precinct book I thought they would be all around 300 pages long! I do prefer the shorter novels though – no padding.

    • Thanks Steve – nothing is ever quite like the first 🙂 Well, I’m not going to disagree about the length, on balance the shorter ones tend to work best i think, , but but some of the longer ones do benefit from the length (Poison, which I’m reviewing next week, is a good example for me, as is Tricks)

  9. Hank says:

    “Ice” is McBain at his most epic. The plotting is brilliant and the ending extremely satisfying. I never saw the movie, but why bother? It can’t possibly top this piece of writing.

    At risk of sounding like a McBain apologist, the reintroduction of Eileen Burke is reflective of the growing ranks of women in US law enforcement at about the same time. Other females within the force would begin to show up in coming novels as well–Sharyn Cooke, Annie Rawles, Nellie Brand–and Eileen ‘ experience as a hostage negotiator directly confronts the topic. McBain always chose to depict American culture as he saw it, not the way he wished it could be.

    • Thanks Hank – this is definitely a very good entry and having Eileen back certainly makes a difference 🙂 I have three 87th Precinct entries for Patti’s McBain meme next week – very glad to host a guest review from you if you’d be interested? I’ve written reviews of the next three in the series: Lightning, Eight Black Horses and Poison (with Tricks to follow in a month, of course, on Halloween night)

      • Hank says:

        I could…it depends upon what you have in mind. My dirty little secret is that sometimes I have sort of been coming here and blathering on at the keyboard when I probably should have been doing serious, professional writing about more mundane subjects. All I’m really trying to do is to encourage people to read these novels, because as I progressed through McBain’s ’90’s novels, I’m struck by how prophetic they seem at times. (I’m also cognizant of the fact that McBain was alternating these 87th titles with an entirely separate series, the Matthew Hope novels, which I also have stashed away somewhere. The man was a workhorse.)

        Right now, I’m plowing through “The Last Dance”, so I’ve been through all of the 80’s and 90’s titles in the past couple of months.

  10. Pingback: Ranking the 87th Precinct Mysteries | Tipping My Fedora

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